A Success Story: the Genebank CRP and Quality Management

Marie Haga, Executive Director, Crop Trust

Successes come in all shapes and sizes. You might rightly accuse me of not being fully objective when it comes to the Crop Trust. I am delighted, however, that there are people in high places who clearly agree with the successes of the Genebank CRP – the Crop Trust’s partnership with the CGIAR that oversees the management and activities of the 11 CGIAR crop and tree genebanks.

At the beginning of 2016, an external review of the Genebank CRP was initiated by CGIAR’s Independent Evaluation Arrangement (IEA). Dr. Michael Jackson led a panel of three independent experts and several resource people to carry out the review. Over the course of 12 months, the panel conducted in-depth interviews with a range of partners. As of now, the written report is not available. However, Dr Jackson has provided a public, verbal report of the findings of the review. So we are able to share a few snippets.

The review panel’s overall conclusion is that the CRP has been a success and has offered good value for money. There is a high level of satisfaction with the performance of the Crop Trust in managing the CRP, and strong support for it to continue in that role in the new Genebank Platform.

27853780572_d32fbe454b_o copyThe CRP Barcoding Workshop was held in Berlin, Germany in June 2016. The workshop targeted CGIAR genebank documentation specialists and key IT staff involved in the development and maintenance of genebank databases with the aim of linking the “experts” within the system with “beginners”. Together, they developed detailed plans for enhanced use of mobiles, barcoding and other IT in genebank daily operations.

Our work to strengthen Quality Management Systems (QMS) is considered to be a “success without parallel”. The IEA review panel witnessed first hand in their visits to genebanks, that there are “exceptionally high levels of morale” throughout the genebank staff and an “excited buzz about the opportunities” much of which they attribute to the QMS work.

The panel also repeatedly returned to the essential point that underlies all of the CRP’s achievements and that is the secure annual funding that allows effective planning and the full implementation of the CRP’s program of work.

A number of initiatives that were developed by the Crop Trust as part of the Genebank CRP received highly positive reviews. These include:

DSC_0470 copyThe 2016 AGM meeting was hosted by the Australian Grains Genebank in Horsham and Melbourne.

Back to QMS

Providing assurance that genebank management is adequate to minimize the potential risks that could affect long-term conservation (from mislabeling to loss of seed viability) is essential for donors, partners, and users to feel confidence in investing time and money in these collections or depositing seed there.

Until recently, this assurance has come only from the trust built up between the genebank and its users over decades of requests and distributions of germplasm. Receiving good quality germplasm upon request is, after all, the primary evidence to show quality management in practice. Developing QMS, however, is a powerful means to instill, sustain and communicate that quality to donors and partners, who may not be users of germplasm, as well as to genebank staff as a whole.

Developing QMS was a major initiative of the Genebank CRP involving considerable investment of effort from both the Crop Trust and the CGIAR genebanks. The initiative counts on a centralized mechanism, provided by the Crop Trust, to develop shared templates and approaches, and give technical assistance, while each genebank is responsible for developing their own individual QMS.

The Crop Trust hired Janny van Beem as QMS specialist to develop the approach. If there is one thing we have learned, it is that talent lies in people not in approaches or procedures!

Much of the initial time and resources in developing the QMS were dedicated to mapping and drafting Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in each genebank. While all genebank staff follow well-practiced procedures that generally adopt accepted or published norms and guidelines, all the specific steps and actions taken may not actually be written down in a comprehensive way. The mantra of QMS is “Say what you do and do what you say”. So writing SOPs for QMS is not about what you should do. It is about what you actually do and sometimes what you don’t do and even sometimes what you do if you can’t do what you should do.

In every genebank, staff members were requested to document the step-by-step procedures that they have developed and implemented, often over many years. The result is not a mere written document. With Janny’s assistance, the exercise prompts staff to question the efficiency and objectives of what they do. It provokes animated discussion, comparison, and thoughts about what staff do now and how it has changed over time with new technologies, protocols or brainwaves. The kind of intense discussion you might get with any skilled craftspeople.

The exercise has an important effect of recognizing the contributions and expertise of individual staff members and empowering them in their roles.

The unique approach and expertise of Crop Trust QMS specialist, Janny van Beem, has been key in turning the exercise of developing SOPs into a motivational experience and not just another bureaucratic chore.

Four Genebank Operations & Advanced Learning (GOAL) workshops were organized between 2015 and 2016 and a total of 101 genebank personnel from 11 CGIAR centers were trained in QMS, barcoding, policy issues, plant health, and several other topics. The workshops provide an arena where genebank staff can gauge “where they are” compared to other genebanks and where they want to be. The workshops offer genebank staff the opportunity to receive expert training in key genebank topics.

QL4A9207 (1)GOAL workshops bring together committed genebank staff and give them a platform to brainstorm new ideas for better genebank management in a hands-on environment.

The GOAL workshops are also a way to share the QMS approach and practices with partners outside the CGIAR. To date, 31 partners from 22 national genebanks have also received training through these workshops. We have received interest from several major national genebanks to be part of the QMS program or to borrow from our approach.

Charlotte Lusty has been the Crop Trust project manager for the Genebank CRP. She has far from done it all by herself, but she has been the powerful engine. Always leading, but not going so fast that people can’t follow. Let me say a big thank you to Charlotte for what she has contributed, but also that she is ready to embark on the next 6 years phase.

Janny Van Beem (Left) with Charlotte Lusty (Right) outside the ICRAF Research Tree Nursery during the GOAL workshop in September 2016 at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

If I had shown this to Charlotte before posting it, she would have said: couldn’t have been done without the amazing CGIAR genebank managers and staff. This is true. So let me also warmly thank them!

Charlotte and the rest of us know very well that there are areas where we can improve, particularly with regard to communications. That is what the next six years will be about. We can promise that we passionately will do our utmost to do an even better job in safeguarding one of the world’s most important natural resources.

Best regards from all of us in Bonn,