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Colombia Inaugurates World’s Biggest Tropical Crop Bank

Colombia has opened the world's largest repository for beans, cassava, and tropical forages near the city of Cali.

Binita Kumari
Future Seeds Gene Bank, Colombia
Future Seeds Gene Bank, Colombia

Colombia has opened the world's largest repository for beans, cassava, and tropical forages near the city of Cali. The demand for food grows as more people are born into this green planet. Feeding the roughly 8 billion people on this planet is a huge task, not only because of the amount of food necessary but also because of the climate crisis, which makes growing conditions more difficult and unpredictable.

Crops need to be resilient to droughts, heat, floods, and disease, and this resistance comes from genetic variation.

The world's crop diversity is being stored in gene banks, which are facilities where the seeds, roots, and vegetation needed to create more life are maintained secure and viable.

Near Cali, Colombia, the world's largest repository for beans, cassava, and tropical forages opened this week.

On March 15, Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez officially opened the Future Seeds gene bank.

The facility will not only protect the biodiversity of essential tropical crops, but will also act as a living laboratory for some of the most cutting-edge agricultural technology, including artificial intelligence, drones, and robotics.

Future Seeds is one of 11 global gene banks managed by the CGIAR, a global research alliance dedicated to food security.

More than 37,000 samples of beans, 6,000 samples of cassava, and 22,600 samples of tropical forages from more than 100 countries are housed in this new facility, which is maintained by the CGIAR's Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

"The Future Seeds gene bank is a hub of diversity," Ola Westengen, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and previous coordinator at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, told Mongabay. "This diversity is the foundation for our crops' future evolution."

Future Seeds announced a $17 million donation from the Bezos Earth Fund to assist the gene bank's operations and research into the use of plant roots to absorb carbon and prevent climate change during its grand opening.

In a press release, Juan Lucas Restrepo, director-general of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and a director of the CGIAR said, "The Future Seeds gene bank will provide an even greater resource for researchers and crop breeders to find the traits that could further climate-proof and shock-proof global food systems."

Seeds and plant material conserved in seed banks are available to people all around the world for free under the principles of the Plant Treaty.

Future Seeds' seeds are available “to any person in any place in the world for food and agriculture research or training," according to Santaella. Requests for clean, viable seeds are limited to roughly 20 to 100.

Santaella told Mongabay, "I hope the future brings many more young scientists interested in genetic resources. We've had the idea, and now we've got the infrastructure."

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