Tropical forage diversity
Forages encompass an extraordinary variety of herbaceous and woody plants selected mostly from undomesticated grass and legume species. CIAT safeguards one of the largest and diverse tropical forages collections, with more than 700 different species from 75 countries. More than half of the preserved germplasm was collected between 1977 and 1993 as part of 75 explorations. A total of 9,877 materials from 41 countries were received as donations.
The collection’s main emphasis is on legumes (more than 21,000 accessions), although almost 1,700 grasses are being conserved as well. The collection has been an important source of traits such as pest and disease resistance, biomass production, high nutritive value, and tolerance to infertile, acid soils, drought and water-logging.
In addition to feeding livestock for milk and meat production, forages can help reduce the environmental footprint of livestock production through carbon sequestration, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and restoration of degraded land.
Improved forages might in fact be one of agriculture’s most promising options for mitigating climate change. Well-managed pastures show great potential for carbon sequestration, second only to forests. Some Brachiaria grasses in particular have a remarkable ability to suppress nitrification, the microbial process responsible for emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2.
Tropical forage accesions
Countries of origin
Forage diversity in photos
Forage germplasm distributed since 1980
13,692 accessions (90,624 samples) distributed to 110 countries
Genebanks are vulnerable many risks, ranging from natural disasters or war to funding shortfalls. Something as mundane as an undetected breakdown of a seed vault can affect an entire collection. The loss of a crop collection would be as irreversible as the extinction of the dinosaurs. That’s why CIAT is producing and shipping duplicates (backups) of the entire tropical forages collection to two off-site storage facilities, one at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard on a remote island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, and another one at CIMMYT, our partner CGIAR Center in Mexico.
of CIAT's forages collection is backed-up in Svalbard
of CIAT's forages collection is backed-up at CIMMYT
Varieties developed from the legume accession Stylosanthes guianensis CIAT 184 are being grown in tropical and subtropical China on several hundred thousand hectares as soil cover, forage for ruminant livestock and leaf meal for chicken and pigs.
Forages show potential to relieve Africa’s severe shortage of feed to sustain its livestock revolution. A recent CIAT study shows that 40% more milk and tens of millions of dollars in revenue are possible for African farmers adopting new drought-resistant pasture grasses.