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Partnerships and organizational news

The Crop Trust made a number of important institutional strides forward in 2022, including: receiving an endowment contribution from a private company; signing of a memorandum of understanding with CGIAR; and issuing the first grant under the Emergency Reserve Fund. These, and other activities and achievements, were discussed at numerous key public events, such as the World Food Prize Foundation’s roundtable on “Financing and Investments for Climate Action and Food System Transformation,” the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and the Ninth Session of the Governing Body of the Plant Treaty.


Refreshing links with CGIAR

The Crop Trust and CGIAR have a long common history. Indeed, one of CGIAR’s centers—Bioversity International—played a key role in paving the way for the establishment of the Crop Trust. In turn, the Crop Trust was instrumental in the creation and operation of the CGIAR Genebank Platform from 2017 to 2021. That relationship has changed with the advent of the successor to the Platform, the Genebank Initiative, but Crop Trust continues to provide financial and technical support to the international genebanks managed by CGIAR centres under Article 15 of the Plant Treaty.

In 2022, the Crop Trust signed a new memorandum of understanding with CGIAR in the wake of its One CGIAR reform, ensuring that collaboration between the two organizations goes from strength to strength.

“This new memorandum of understanding provides a solid foundation for our critical work with the genebanks of the CGIAR centers,” said Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust. “Both parties are fully committed to ensuring the long-term conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture in these vital collections.”

Celebrating 10 years of partnership with Rhodes College 

Every year since 2012, an outstanding graduating student from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, has had the opportunity to work with the Crop Trust and further their interest in global affairs and crop conservation, thanks to the Steve and Riea Lainoff Crop Trust Fellowship in Honor of Cary Fowler.

Fellows have assisted in a range of activities, including the planning of conferences and events, the development of communications materials, and even supporting deposits to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Some have stayed on at the Crop Trust after their fellowship year ended, becoming full-time staff members.

Support from the private sector

Beans, sorghum, pearl millet, peas and lentils are set to benefit from a new partnership between the Crop Trust and Schär, the gluten-free brand of the Italian food company Dr. Schär. Under a groundbreaking agreement, the South Tirol-based family business will contribute funds to the endowment to help safeguard the seeds of 500 varieties of these gluten-free crops in international genebanks for the next 100 years and beyond.

To celebrate the partnership, Dr. Schär has launched a digital campaign to promote public participation. Users can digitally “plant” their seed along with a brief message expressing a wish or commitment for the future. 

For each digital wish, Dr. Schär will donate the funds needed to conserve each crop variety for a year. This will help the company reach its goal and protect 500 varieties of the five different gluten-free crops for the next century, at least.

It is hoped that this partnership will set an example that will inspire other private companies in the food sector to support seed conservation for global food security.

Yemen genebank is first to receive grant under Emergency Reserve

As reported in last year’s Annual Report, in November 2021 the Crop Trust and the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Plant Treaty) launched the world’s first facility designed to provide urgent financial support to genebanks under imminent threat.

In December 2022, the National Genetic Resources Center (NGRC) in Yemen became the first genebank to benefit from this new facility.

The NGRC, a long-time partner of the Crop Trust, has suffered badly from the combined effects of the long-running conflict in Yemen and the COVID-19 pandemic. Rampant inflation, reduced operating funds, and the loss of staff have forced the genebank to cut back on many of its operations.

But it was the frequent power cuts that were putting the safety of the genebank collection at immediate risk of loss. The genebank staff had installed solar panels to provide the electricity needed to run the freezers in which it stored its vital collection of seeds. But the 24 batteries that are at the heart of the system were coming to the end of their useful life and needed replacing.

“We were looking at a cost of USD 10,000 to replace them, and we could not get the funds from the government or any other source,” said Maeen Aljarmouzi, manager of the genebank. “Thankfully, the Emergency Reserve came through.”

Using the funds, the genebank purchased the batteries on the local market, and local technicians installed them, putting the genebank collection on a more secure footing once again.

Additional crisis support for genebanks

The Crop Trust, together with the Plant Treaty, also provided crisis support to genebanks in Ukraine and Costa Rica.

The research station that is home to the Ukraine national genebank suffered damage from Russian missiles in May 2022, highlighting how vulnerable such collections can be in times of crisis. Fortunately, the collection was not harmed, but as only 4% of the collection was backed up elsewhere, the outcome could have been catastrophic.

Therefore, the Crop Trust has been working with FAO, the Plant Treaty and the national genebank to secure the collection in a safe location and to develop a plan for post-conflict rehabilitation of the national plant genetic resources system. This will include safety backup of the collection in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

The Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), located in Costa Rica, has been maintaining a coffee collection for more than 70 years. But this has proved increasingly challenging, particularly in the face of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in 2021, the Crop Trust and the Plant Treaty have been working with CATIE to move some of its most at-risk samples to a new location where the climatic and soil conditions are better suited to their needs. In 2022, CATIE inaugurated this new site on International Coffee Day—1 October—when the center’s director general, Muhammad Ibrahim, symbolically planted the first of many coffee plants in its new home.

Organizational updates

Throughout the year, we carried out a systematic review of all internal Crop Trust policies through a diversity lens. A consultancy firm specializing in inclusion helped us. In parallel, training was provided to all staff about the concepts and importance of diversity and inclusion, and the pernicious effects of unconscious bias. 

Furthermore, gender diversity and inclusion were prominently featured in training for all supervisors, with the aim to improve the psychological safety and mental health of staff members. We also focused on how a growth mindset can improve the performance of teams. 

The diversity of our organization grew. As of 2022, the Crop Trust’s 44 staff members represent 23 nationalities, with 64% of staff identifying as women and 36% as men. 

Highlights included the arrival of a new Director of Programs, Sarada Krishnan, who formerly directed the Horticulture and Centre for Global Initiatives of the Denver Botanic Gardens. 

We renewed our administrative agreement with the German Ministry of Agriculture for a further 10 years, and secured additional office space for a dozen staff in our current premises in Bonn.

Crop Trust 2.0

The project 'Strategic Development of the Crop Trust' made great strides forward in 2022. This is a three-year endeavour (2021-2023) funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented in collaboration with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The overarching objective is to advance the Crop Diversity Endowment Fund, enhance cooperation with and among genebanks worldwide, and raise awareness of the Crop Trust and its mission.

The project has devised a financing strategy, which now has also been approved by the Crop Trust’s Executive Board. To strengthen fundraising, an experienced consultancy firm was engaged to help build institutional capacity and lay the groundwork for a major resource mobilization effort. This includes donor prospecting, the development of targeted communication materials, the implementation of information management tools, and staff training.

Furthermore, as part of this overall effort, a proposal to support the cryopreservation and use of sweetpotato diversity in sub-Saharan Africa was successfully developed and we were able to secure funding from the UK Darwin Initiative. 

In order to raise awareness of the critical importance of conserving crop diversity, the Crop Trust organized several events, including a Parliamentary Breakfast in Berlin. This brought together policymakers to discuss the role of genebanks in safeguarding crop diversity to strengthen food security amidst the challenges posed by climate change. The Crop Trust also co-hosted a visit to Germany’s national genebank IPK by a delegation of German science journalists, to facilitate dialogue on how genebanks can support the development of sustainable food systems.

Communications, outreach and engagement

Celebrating crop diversity with German stakeholders

In September, the inaugural stakeholders' gathering to celebrate crop diversity took place in the Crop Trust’s host city of Bonn. Participants at the event, which we plan to organize every year, included: Ursula Sautter, deputy mayor of the Federal City of Bonn; Joachim von Braun, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican; Anna-Katharina Hornidge, director of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability; as well as researchers and academics from crop science-related institutes and universities in Germany.

“How many people understand the importance of crop diversity? Not many, unfortunately,” said the Crop Trust’s Stefan Schmitz in his opening statement to the participants. “With this event, we want to change that.”

Panel discussions highlighted the crucial role of crop and livestock diversity in ensuring food and nutrition security, especially in the face of climate change. “Diversity in the genepools of crops, livestock and fisheries plays a crucial role in the resilience of food systems and in the resilience of societies through the diversity of livelihoods,” Hornidge said. 

“We need to establish a global genebank—a virtual global genebank—a decentralized system of many genebanks, all working together,” said Frank Begemann, director of biological diversity, ecological farming, climate and international affairs at the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food. 

“The Crop Trust is trying to make this vision of an integrated global system a reality,” said Schmitz.

Speaking to the topic of increasing awareness about the importance of crop and livestock diversity, Maximilian Weigend, director of the Botanical Gardens at the University of Bonn, said: “Food diversity, crop diversity, regional varieties, this immediately captures the public’s attention. It’s an essential part of local identity.”

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Ninth Session of the Governing Body of the Plant Treaty

In September, the Ninth Session of the Governing Body of the Plant Treaty was held in New Delhi. “A lot has happened in the three years since the Eighth Session,” said Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust. Both the Crop Trust and the Secretariat of the Plant Treaty presented reports on activities since the last meeting, including the establishment and operation of the Emergency Reserve. The Parties adopted a very supportive resolution providing us with useful policy guidance in a number of key areas of engagement between the Crop Trust and the Plant Treaty.

The Crop Trust and the Secretariat of the Plant Treaty also hosted a side event, “Safeguarding Crop Diversity in an Unpredictable World,” which highlighted various  joint initiatives designed and implemented through this partnership, and the lessons learned.

Financing a global system of genebanks

In October 2022, Executive Director Schmitz took part in a panel discussion at the World Food Prize Foundation’s roundtable on “Financing and Investments for Climate Action and Food System Transformation.” He highlighted the need for much more investment in the long-term support of the world’s crop genebanks. “Better seeds are the key to better and more-resilient food systems,” he said. Schmitz reiterated the central role of genebanks in conserving at-risk crop genetic resources and ensuring that farmers, plant breeders and researchers continue to have access to the crop diversity they need to breed more resilient and nutritious crops to combat the rigors of climate change and other challenges.

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Executive director addresses Plenary Session of COP27

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022 and was the first climate summit at which agriculture took center stage. Executive Director Schmitz addressed the assembled delegations, highlighting the crucial role of crop genetic resources and the genebanks that conserve them in securing the world’s long-term food and nutrition security. During his presentation, he announced the comprehensive plan developed by the Crop Trust and its partners to safeguard these collections and make them more readily accessible to those who need them, including farmers, plant breeders and researchers. At the heart of this is the need for long-term, sustainable financing for a global network of genebanks—the core element of the Crop Trust’s mission. The event culminated in the launch of a new initiative aimed at raising finance to transform agriculture by 2030.

Taking center stage at Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Climate 2022

Crop Trust Board Chair Catherine Bertini and Crop Trust staff led discussions in two key panels at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Climate 2022 conference, which ran alongside the COP27 summit.

Bertini and Crop Trust Executive Director Stefan Schmitz participated in the panel on “Food forever: Climate-proofing our food for future generations,” alongside Kent Nnadozie, the secretary of the Plant Treaty, and others. Speakers at the Crop Trust-hosted event discussed the challenges facing food systems, and some solutions—many of which are already showing results.

A second panel session on “Tree diversity for climate change adaptation and food system resilience” featured Sarada Krishnan, the Crop Trust’s director of programs, Ramni Jamnadass from World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and Paul Smith from Botanic Gardens Conservation International. The session focused on a report, Conserving and using tree diversity for global climate change adaptation and food system resilience, commissioned by the three organizations, on how tree diversity can most effectively be conserved in genebanks and used for smallholder livelihoods and food security in the face of a changing climate.

From targets to action: The Crop Trust at CBD COP15

The Crop Trust, together with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the United Nations Environment Programme, hosted a session on Food Day (14 December) at the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Titled “From targets to action: How to implement food-related targets of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework,” the session highlighted how countries can transform their food systems to meet targets of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The audience and speakers discussed examples of work that has been successful in sustainably managing and conserving traditional varieties of crops and livestock—as well as the associated knowledge—that could be adapted and scaled up around the world.

New look for the Crop Trust

2022 also saw the launch of the Crop Trust’s new website, the first major product to use the organization’s new branding, with a new-look logo and sharper, more engaging design and typography. The content is optimized for in-depth searching, ensuring that it will feature high on all web search engines.

“This is vital to support the Crop Trust’s efforts to promote awareness of the importance of crop diversity to our future food and nutrition security,” said Hannah Bisset, leader of the Crop Trust’s communication efforts.

The new website also features a new crop diversity news hub called The Crop Diversity Digest. Rather than presenting only Crop Trust content, it features world news that impacts conservation and the use of crop diversity. The Digest provides a platform for outreach campaigns, a showcase for videos and podcasts, a home for the Crop Trust’s events calendar, and a resource for media outlets. A free newsletter called The Dish is included.

Building a social media presence

We put a lot of effort into building our social media presence in 2022, and it has paid off.

The Crop Trust now has more than 35,000 followers on Facebook (up 210% from 2021), 15,000+ followers on Twitter (up 31%), 10,000+ on Instagram (up 39%) and 5,000+ on LinkedIn (up 157%). Combined, its social media channels reach more than 1 million people monthly. This range of social media coverage ensures that the Crop Trust is able to target messages to particular audiences—ranging from lovers of aesthetics and strong imagery, who tend to use Instagram as a major communication tool, through to industry experts and development professionals on the more stately LinkedIn.

In support of outreach for the BOLD Project, a 2022 campaign promoted the new Jabal durum wheat variety: the video reached almost half a million people on Instagram, more than 700,000 people on Facebook, and garnered 12,000 clicks on the campaign page of the Crop Trust website.

In addition, the Crop Trust launched a YouTube channel as its institutional home for all video content, including the GROW webinars and Genesys training materials for the scientific community. The channel had a total watch time of 335 hours in 2022. 

Traditional media

The Crop Trust is proud to be recognized as a reliable source of high-quality information about crop diversity conservation and use. This is reflected in the increasing number of mentions in respected, widely read media outlets—more than 700 mentions in 2022.

During the year, the Crop Trust featured in stories on The Guardian, New Scientist, BBC, National Public Radio, Gizmodo, The Independent, Reuters, and Bloomberg.

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