Phytosanitary Awareness Week focuses on role of CGIAR germplasm health units

The week-long campaign aims to inform, update, inspire and engage diverse stakeholders to raise awareness of the critical role of germplasm health units

The Genebank Platform and 11 CGIAR genebanks will raise awareness about germplasm health work across the CGIAR system and national and international partners during Phytosanitary Awareness Week on 23-27 October.

The week-long campaign aims to inform, update, inspire and engage diverse stakeholders to raise awareness of the critical role that germplasm health units play in ensuring safe exchange of germplasm free of pests and diseases. Throughout the week, CGIAR centers will hold online seminars, training sessions and field trips related to phytosanitary issues.

CGIAR Genebanks located in centers of crop diversity, host more than 750,000 accessions of vital food, forage and tree crop germplasm, including cassava, maize, rice, potato, sweetpotato, groundnut, sorghum, chickpea, bananas, besides thousands of improved varieties bred for resistance to pests and disease, resilience to climate change and richness in micronutrients such as pro-vitamin A.

“Germplasm conserved in the CGIAR genebanks and the improved varieties developed by the breeding programs are regularly exchanged with national and international programs for crop improvement, diversification, food production, commerce and agricultural development,” said Lava Kumar, Head of the Germplasm Health Unit/Virology at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. “Germplasm exchange, however, has inherent risks of introducing exotic pathogens that include viruses, fungi, bacteria, phytoplasma, weeds, insects and nematodes.”

In the CGIAR system, Germplasm Health Units (GHUs) have been established in each center involved in crop improvement research, which includes Africa Rice, Bioversity, CIAT, CIP, CIMMYT, ICARDA, ICRAF, ICRISAT, IITA, ILRI and IRRI.

The GHUs enable the exchange of healthy and pest- and disease-free germplasm between centers and partners in various countries in accordance with the requirements of the national plant protection organizations (NPPO) regulations and the FAO International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

“GHUs provide vital support to genebanks and breeding programs in production and maintenance of pest and pathogen-free germplasm for conservation and use,” Kumar said. “Collectively GHUs, genebanks, and crop improvement programs ensure germplasm distributed from the CGIAR centers are healthy and of high quality and, meet the phytosanitary requirements of national and international legislation.”

GHUs develop phytosanitary procedures to eliminate pathogens from germplasm and create versatile diagnostics tools for health indexing tests for screening invasive, exotic and endemic pathogens. The Units track changes in global pest and pathogen profiles and develop appropriate controls to tackle new challenges. They work proactively to transfer knowledge and technologies to build phytosanitary capacity among partners programs.

“Germplasm health is one of CGIAR’s unknown success stories,” Kumar said. “CGIAR has the highest level of international germplasm distribution worldwide. Every year CGIAR centers attend to about 2,000 requests for seed, clonal, and tree germplasm from more than 100 countries. The majority of these requests are from developing countries.”

GHUs under the aegis of national quarantine organizations are responsible for implementing phytosanitary controls to prevent the risk of alien pathogen spread during seed exports and imports. This complicated and expensive task is made easier due to CGIAR’s absolute commitment to adhere to high phytosanitary standards. CGIAR’s cooperation with national quarantine agencies of the host countries, who understand the CGIAR’s role in disseminating valuable crop diversity across the countries and continents is essential.

During Awareness Week, the CGIAR centers will showcase tools and technologies for germplasm health testing and phytosanitary controls in CGIAR centers. They will conduct joint activities with national quarantine authorities to increase knowledge on established and emerging threats to global agriculture and prevention methods.

“By the end of the week, we hope to convey the key message that GHUs ensure phytosanitary compliance and safeguard the path to food security,” Kumar said.

To stay informed of the various events during Phytosanitary Awareness Week, follow the hashtag #CGIARGHU on social media or visit for information about CGIAR germplasm distribution programs and GHUs.