Recognition of the importance of conserving plant genetic resources in Southern Africa led to the establishment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Plant Genetic Resource Centre in 1989. The Plant Genetic Resource Centre is a non-profit, autonomous regional organisation, located in Lusaka, Zambia.
The Plant Genetic Resource Centre, which falls under the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) Directorate, works in coordination with plant genetics centres in each of the Member States to conserve and preserve the genetic diversity and viability of Southern African plant stocks. The Plant Genetic Resource Centre, and national counterparts, also perform important roles in research, documentation and training, and education.
Preservation of plant stocks is achieved through the collection, documentation and long term storage of seed samples, known as accessions. More specifically, an accession is a unique entry in a gene bank collection representing a distinct genotype or plant variety as collected at a specific location and time. Information about the collection sample is important for searching and retrieval from the gene bank. Such information may include characterisation of the accession by unique collection number, date, village name, coordinates, and elevation above sea level (important for microclimate). Information about indigenous knowledge of the seed and other notebook information may also be collected and stored.
The Centre works to improve accession information and to make this available through the Documentation and Information System, available to all Member States. The national centres currently hold more than 44,000 accessions, with genetic material collected from local farms and in the wild.
Indigenous species are important for traditional uses such as medicines. Domesticated species collection includes landraces, which are exotic (non-indigenous) species that have adapted to local conditions over a long period of time without the use of selective breeding practises. Many of the food crops important to SADC are in fact landraces. When species are under threat, or seed stock is limited, the Centres may employ multiplication methods to increase seed available for storage. Seed stored in the gene banks is tested, and when germination rates fall below 85%, the seed stock is regenerated to ensure long term viability. Samples are also sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. In collaboration with the SADC Seed Security Network, the Plant Genetic Resource Centres will help ensure that genetic variability is not lost by providing a buffer to local agriculture against shocks such as drought, flood, or civil unrest.
The work of SPGRC and the national centres is challenging. Collection of seed germplasm can be complicated by limited road access or civil unrest. The volume of collected material requires careful handling to avoid misplacement, loss to pests, or loss of viability. Good work has been done to address these issues. A major achievement of the centre has been the adoption within SADC of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which is currently being ratified by the Member States. The treaty facilitates global access to conserved plant genetic resources.
The Centre is governed by a board composed of representatives of the SADC Member States. The Centre began as a 20 year project with financial and technical assistance from the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
Contact the Plant Genetic Resources Centre
SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC)
Private Bag CH 6
Farm No. 6300 off Great East Road
Telephone: +260 211 233391; +260 211 233392; +260 211 233815; +260 211 213816
Fax: +260 211 233476