Dubai: A Dubai-based gene bank containing the world’s largest collections of genetic material of heat- and salt-tolerant plant species has officially been made available to farmers, plant breeders and scientists for the sustainable production of food from plants around the globe.

The move is part of an agreement signed by the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, Dr José Graziano da Silva, and Director-General of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), Dr Ismahane Elouafi, to expand existing cooperation between the two institutions on plant genetic resources, biosaline agriculture and climate change adaptation in the world’s marginal environments.

Under Article 15 of the agreement, the crop germplasm collection stored in ICBA’s gene bank will officially become part of the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing.

This multilateral system currently comprises over 2.6 million samples of crop germplasm or is living tissue from which new plants can be grown.

Material in this vast global gene pool is exchanged around the world at an average rate of about 1,000 transfers per day to support farmers, plant breeders and scientists in developing new climate-resilient crop varieties to produce more nutritious food from plants.

A second agreement was also signed to collaborate in biosaline agriculture, water scarcity, and climate change adaptation, among other things, during an open day at the ICBA head office in Dubai in the presence of Mariam Bint Mohammad Saeed Hareb Al Muhairi, UAE Minister of State for Food Security; Dr Bandar M.H. Hajjar, President of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group; and Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Chairperson of the ICBA Board of Directors.

The open day was held as part of year-long celebrations to mark 20 years since ICBA’s establishment by the visionary leadership of the UAE Government and IsDB.

During the event, Al Muhairi said: “The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture is leading the way in this exciting field as a major UAE food security stakeholder. The centre has been instrumental in ensuring that agricultural technology is no longer seen as a quirky innovation on the fringes of food production, but an element that is integral to a sustainable future.”

For his part, Dr Hajjar, commended ICBA for providing “a strong evidence to development community of the importance of partnerships in addressing the huge development challenges facing the world today.”

Currently, ICBA’s unique gene bank contains over 14,000 accessions of around 240 plant species from more than 150 countries and territories of the world, in addition to around 250 seed samples of 70 wild plant species from the UAE, the centre’s host country.

“Plant genetic resources play an essential role in ensuring biodiversity and food security,” Dr Elouafi said.

“Due to many factors including climate change, population growth, and urbanisation, plant genetic resources are declining at an alarming rate. Therefore, it is important to conserve them before it is too late.”

Dr Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the International Treaty, speaking from FAO headquarters in Rome, said the inclusion of ICBA’s valuable germplasm collection will make it “more accessible to a broader range of users and ultimately farmers, while affording ICBA new partnerships and involvement in the global governance framework”.