ICARDA Honored with Mendel Prize for Safely Duplicating Syria Genebank

Linda McCandless with Rajita Majumdar
Friday, March 20, 2015

ICARDA was honored on March 19, 2015, in Berlin with the prestigious Gregor Mendel Innovation Prize for successfully securing its globally important collection of crop genetic resources in Tel Hadya, Syria, despite the challenging conditions of civil war."Over the years, ICARDA had managed to safety-duplicate most of its genebank collections outside Syria. When the conflict there escalated, we sped up the duplicaiton and now have secured 100% of the germplasm collection outside Syria. We also duplicated 80% of our collection in Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway already. I'm also glad to add that ICARDA had earlier rescued and safety-duplicated germplasm collections from Afghanistan and Iraq," says Mahmoud Solh, the Director General of ICARDA.“The efforts of Mahmoud Solh and his teams are valuable not only for plant breeders who are highly dependent on diversity to improve agricultural varieties but also for following generations who benefit from drought tolerant and disease and pest resistant crops,” justifies Dr. H.C. Peter Harry Carstensen, President of the Gregor Mendel Foundation. "It is almost impossible to express enough gratitude and incredulity for what Dr. Solh and his team have been able to accomplish in relocating and securing their genebank collection," says Ronnie Coffman, vice-chairman of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative. "The Middle East is the center of origin of wheat. ICARDA's germplasm collection for durum and bread wheat is among the most extensive and valuable in the world."The ceremony was attended by Christian Schmidt, Germany’s Federal Minister for Nutrition and Agriculture, Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, State Secretary of Germany’s Ministry of Economic cooperation and Development, Peter Harry Carstensen, former state premier and President of the Board of Trustees of the Gregor Mendel Foundation, and Paula Bramel, deputy CEO of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, amongst others.

“We take it as an integral responsibility of ICARDA as we work with governments for food security and improving rural livelihoods in conflict and post-conflict zones,” points out Solh. 

ICARDA’s genebank holds perhaps the world’s largest collection of landraces and wild relatives of barley, lentil, chickpea, faba bean, several forage and rangeland species, along with durum and bread wheat, collected from dry regions where the earliest known crop domestication practices originated. These include the ‘Fertile Crescent’ in Western Asia, the Abyssinian highlands in Ethiopia and the Nile Valley, and the Central Asia and Caucasus region. Its unique holdings of Rhizobium, instrumental in nitrogen fixation, has a vital role in the sustainability of life on earth.

Aside from Svalbard, these genetic resources are hosted at CIMMYT, ICRISAT, VIR-Russia, USDA, and India, among many partners. 

ICARDA credited the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and Grains Research and Development Corporation, Global Crop Diversity, and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development for supporting its genetic resources and genebank activities.

[This blog is based on a press release from ICARDA]