Colombia's Duque opens gene bank for long-term crop conservation

BOGOTA, March 15 (Reuters) - Colombia's President Ivan Duque on Tuesday inaugurated the world's largest genetic library for beans, cassava and tropical forages for feeding livestock, which will provide long-term crop conservation and could help shock-proof global food systems.

Increasing demand for food and falling crop output amid climate change mean researchers must breed new plant varieties to withstand the twin impacts of rising temperature and extreme weather events, according to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The Future Seeds gene bank in Palmira, close to Colombia's third-largest city Cali, will conserve two of the most important staple foods in the global south, as well as plants for feeding livestock, CGIAR said in a statement.

The facility will be managed by CGIAR's Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which will host a collection that includes more than 37,000 bean samples; 6,000 cassava samples; and 22,600 samples of tropical forages - which include grasses and trees - critical for rearing livestock, it said.

"Here we won't just have a seed bank, but a seed bank focused on satisfying the needs for feeding the whole planet," Duque said during the inauguration ceremony.

The facility, which has received some $17.2 million in investments so far, will receive an additional $17 million donation from The Bezos Earth Fund, created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Cristian Samper, a member of the Bioversity-CIAT Alliance board of trustees, said during the ceremony.

The Future Seeds gene bank will use artificial intelligence to speed up crop analysis to help scientists breed new varieties of plants capable of coping in extreme conditions.

"The Future Seeds gene bank will provide a yet greater resource for researchers and crop breeders to find the traits that could further climate-proof and shock-proof global food systems," Juan Lucas Restrepo, the global director of partnerships and advocacy for CGIAR and director general of Bioversity-CIAT Alliance, said in the statement.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Tim Ahmann

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