Gene banks play crucial role for food security in Africa

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The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Chief Executive Officer Naoko Ishii underlined the crucial role gene banks play in food security in Africa after a visit to the Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity which houses Africa’s largest gene bank.
The gene bank is a storage house where biological material is collected, stored, catalogued and made available for redistribution. The bank has been contributing to food security by maintaining a diverse gene pool in the form of crop varieties and by distributing seeds to communities that are highly affected by climate change, droughts and chronic food shortages.
“Biodiversity is important to improve sustainability and to cope with climate change through increasing resilience of the agricultural system,” said Gemedo Dalle, Director General of the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute. The gene bank currently preserves over 77,000 varieties of indigenous biological materials. According to the institute’s director general, another gene bank that was built at a cost of 25 million birr in Fitche town in the Oromia Regional State is ready to go operational by next year. The project was fully funded by the Ethiopian government.
“Biodiversity conservation is part of the solution for climate change. There is a high need to maintain and restore degraded ecosystems, establish a network of terrestrial, fresh water and protected marine areas that could help to endure the problems of climate change, and mitigating and adapting to that change,” Gemedo said.
Helen Clark said that the gene bank is an on-going sustainable endeavor to conserve the biodiversity of Ethiopia’s seed stock.
“The services from the gene bank at the Biodiversity Institute are incredibly important in keeping this rich heritage of genetic variety of seeds of Ethiopia. This is not an endeavor that can go on only in the scientific community in the capital city. The engagement with the framers has been absolutely critical and if the farmers understand the benefits of this kind of work and what it can do for them in order to continue to adapt to the changing environment around them, then they can enrich their lives,” Clark noted.
GEF Chief Executive Officer Naoko Ishii also stated that the state of the agricultural sector in Africa is a key issue that has been discussed at the 3rd Finance for Development Conference and will be discussed in upcoming conferences in New York and Paris. 
“Here at the Finance for Development Conference, we are discussing on how to support the development goals, and similarly, there will be a series of meetings in New York in September as well as the climate conference in December in Paris. In these global policy discussions, food security in Africa is a very important topic that we need to address,” Ishii said.
She also stated that Africa’s agriculture sector is facing a huge challenge; productivity is the lowest in the world but yet it is feeding a fast-growing population and this issue needs to be addressed.
Ethiopia is one of the two biodiversity hotspots of global significance: The Eastern Afromontane and the Horn of Africa. This means the country will play a vital role in the future of food security on the continent through the revival and conservation of traditional, indigenous seeds in the face of drought and climate change, among other challenges.