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Safeguarding Agrobiodiversity for Food and Nutrition Security

Safeguarding Agrobiodiversity for Food and Nutrition Security

ICRISAT joins the global community in celebrating the UN International Day for Biological Diversity, highlighting the Genebank's role in conserving and protecting agrobiodiversity.

Globally, biodiversity for food and agriculture is declining, threatening food security and reducing agriculture's resilience to climate change, pests, and diseases.

International Day for Biological Diversity, is underpinned by the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which stresses the importance of valuing, conserving, restoring, and wisely using biodiversity to sustain a healthy planet. This year, the theme "Be Part of the Plan," urges stakeholders worldwide to take decisive action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) joins the global community in celebrating this important day. The ICRISAT Genebank, in collaboration with the CGIAR, Crop Trust and other partners, continues to protect agrobiodiversity as an International Public Good.

Agrobiodiversity is the foundation of ICRISAT's efforts around "Breeding for Better Varieties." The Genebank conserves three dryland legumes—chickpea, pigeonpea, and groundnut—and eight cereals, including pearl millet, sorghum, finger millet, proso millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet, little millet, and foxtail millet. These valuable resources are shared with researchers worldwide, offering solutions to agricultural challenges and enhancing global food security.

Landraces for Developing Climate-Smart Crops

Size variation in different varieties of chickpea.
Size variation in different varieties of chickpea.

Abiotic stress such as drought, salinity, and extreme temperatures continues to affect crop productivity. In addition to climate-smart agricultural practices, climate-smart crops offer a means of sustenance for farmers and farming communities.

Pearl millet is a crucial crop for drought-prone areas affected by high temperatures. ICRISAT conserves over 25,000 pearl millet germplasms originating from 51 countries.

The pearl millet landraces from West Africa and western India are a rich source of diversity for abiotic stress tolerance. The 'Iniadi' landraces from West Africa, with their inherent potential to escape terminal drought stress, have led to the development of robust cultivars that thrive in the dryland farmers' fields of India and Africa.

Similarly, in chickpea, the accession ICC 4958 remains a key source of drought tolerance. The introgression of QTL hotspots from this accession has led to the release of popular cultivars such as PUSA chickpea 10216.

These climate-smart crops, along with sustainable agricultural practices, are essential in ensuring food security and resilience for farming communities facing the challenges of climate change.

Landraces for Better Nutrition

Indian woman farmer in a foxtail millet field.
Indian woman farmer in a foxtail millet field.
There is an inherent need for nutrient-dense crops to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition. ICRISAT, in partnership with the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), has been instrumental in developing several world-first varieties to combat nutrient deficiencies in the drylands through varieties such as Dhanshakti, high-iron pearl millet variety, and Parbhani Shakti, the high-iron and zinc sorghum variety.

ICRISAT screens several landraces conserved in the Genebank for their nutritional profiles. Small millets are emerging as a promising solution to combat malnutrition. In a study by ICRISAT published in 2021, 200 diverse little millet landraces were characterized to assess variability for agronomic and nutritional traits.

Five accessions (IPmr 855, 974, 877, 897, 767) were found to be high-yielding and rich in calcium. A similar study on Kodo millet identified 30 accessions out of 200 for better yield, including eight for iron, 14 for zinc, six for calcium, and seven for protein.

Another study analyzed the nutrient contents in the cotyledon and seed coat fractions of 60 pigeonpea accessions, identifying two accessions that showed minimal loss of calcium and magnesium during dehulling.

The nutrient-dense accessions identified in these studies could serve as potential starting materials for crop improvement, including direct release as cultivars following national protocols.

Landraces for Combating Emerging Pests and Diseases

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that plant diseases cost the global economy over $220 billion, while invasive insects incur additional losses of at least $70 billion.

Enhancing the crops' natural resistance to diseases and pests is the most cost-effective way to reduce food loss. Landraces offer a means to identify natural resistance in plants and are crucial for breeding varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases.

Fusarium wilt nearly devastated the pigeonpea industry in the early 1980s. As one of the most widespread and destructive diseases affecting pigeonpea, it led to total crop loss affecting the smallholder farmers.

In response, ICRISAT began screening to identify germplasm with broad-based wilt resistance across various locations. Of the many lines tested, ICP 8863, released in Karnataka as 'Maruti,' continues to have a significant economic impact, demonstrating the lasting value of conserved agrobiodiversity even thirty years after its direct release from the ICRISAT Genebank. More recently, in efforts to screen for wilt resistance, ICP 9174, a landrace from Kenya, was found to be resistant to seven variants of Fusarium udum.

Groundnut varieties.
Groundnut varieties.

Similarly, Arachis cardenasii, a wild relative of groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), serves as a single source of resistance for late-leaf spot in groundnuts. Originating in Bolivia, this wild variety was collected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and assembled at ICRISAT, where it has been indispensable in breeding late-leaf spot resistant groundnut varieties.

The role of landraces in combating emerging pests and diseases underscores their value in developing resilient crop varieties.

Going Beyond Conservation

Dr Kuldeep Singh, Head of the ICRISAT Genebank, visits the Regional Genebank in Niger and interacts with Dr Falalou Hamidou, Senior Scientist and Country Representative for Niger.
Dr Kuldeep Singh, Head of the ICRISAT Genebank, visits the Regional Genebank in Niger and interacts with Dr Falalou Hamidou, Senior Scientist and Country Representative for Niger.

The ICRISAT Genebank, as part of the CGIAR Genebank Initiative and supported by Crop Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), plays a vital role in the recovery and redistribution of lost genetic resources.

The collections held at the Genebank are crucial for restoring germplasm to source countries when national collections are lost due to natural disasters, civil strife, or other calamities. Over the past 50 years, the ICRISAT Genebank has repatriated over 55,399 accessions to 11 countries across Asia and Africa.

Globally, the ICRISAT Genebank supports breeding efforts by distributing over 1.65 million seed samples to researchers in 150 countries. Regional genebanks in Niamey, Niger, and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, serve as active collection and distribution hubs, ensuring the availability of quality seeds.

ICRISAT's decades-long work in conserving and breeding millet varieties has significantly contributed to initiatives like the Government of India’s National Year of Millets in 2021 and the UN International Year of Millets in 2023. These efforts support national and international programs aimed at reviving millet cultivation.

The genetic resources of millets conserved in the Genebank have been instrumental in state programs such as the Odisha Millets Mission, Assam Millets Mission, and, more recently, the Bihar government’s Centre of Excellence in Millet Value Chain.

Genebanks like ICRISAT's are indispensable for maintaining agrobiodiversity. They provide the genetic resources essential for breeding resilient and nutritious crops, support global agricultural research, and play a crucial role in restoring lost genetic materials.

Map showing distribution of germplasm from the ICRISAT Genebank
Map showing distribution of germplasm from the ICRISAT Genebank

This work aligns with SDGs 2, 13 & 17.

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For media inquiries, please contact:

Parkavi Kumar
Parkavi Kumar Senior Communications Specialist for Asia

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Learn more about the ICRISAT and CGIAR Genebanks:

Home - Patancheru, Genebank ICRISAT
The ICRISAT Genebank established in 1979 at Patancheru, India serves as a world repository for the collection of germplasm of the 11 crops: sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, finger millet, foxtail millet, little millet, kodo millet, proso millet and barnyard millet. With 129,954 germplasm accessions assembled from 144 countries through donations and collection missions, it is one of the largest international genebanks. Several landraces now conserved in the ICRISAT genebanks have disappeared from their natural habitats in Africa and Asia. The collection serves both as insurance against genetic erosion and a source of tolerance to diseases and pests, environmental stresses, higher nutritional quality and traits related to yield for crop improvement.
Download the brochure: Genebanks Brochure 2023 Challenge An unprecedented rate of biodiversity loss is one of the defining global challenges of our times. Reduced biodiversity undermines the resilience of agricultural systems, threatens nutritional security and puts the foundations of crop improvement at risk. Sustainable Development Goal 2.5 highlights the importance of maintaining genetic diversity of crops […]









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About The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is a pioneering International Organization committed to developing and improving dryland farming and agri-food systems to address the challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and environmental degradation affecting the 2.1 billion people residing in the drylands of Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond.

ICRISAT was established under a Memorandum of Agreement between the Government of India and the CGIAR on the 28 March 1972. In accordance with the Headquarters Agreement, the Government of India has extended the status of a specified “International Organisation” to ICRISAT under section 3 of the United Nations (Privileges and Immunities) Act, 1947 of the Republic of India through Extraordinary Gazette Notification No. UI/222(66)/71, dated 28 October 1972, issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Our offices:

Asia: India (Headquarters - Hyderabad)

East and Southern Africa:  Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe

West and Central Africa: Mali, Niger, Nigeria

For all media inquiries, please email:

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
Hyderabad, Telangana, India