Genetic resources need to be conserved for future generations and accessible for the current, to breed the new varieties needed to adapt to the ever-changing environment and farmers/consumer demands. There are various complementary approaches for conserving these genetic resources. Ex situ genebanking is the most prominent and most widely applied approach. The current operating genebanks are not all reliable or accessible, resulting in a rather ineffective system with low reliability and high redundancy. If genebanks could agree on the appropriate level of quality of their operations (including conservation, access and continuity), and assure this quality, this situation could be improved considerably. Therefore, a certification system for genebanks is proposed.

To determine the status quo regarding quality management and the adoption of, and need for, standards in genebanks, Deliverable 2.1 made an extensive inventory of the situation in European genebanks.

Results from a survey conducted with 58 genebanks in 36 European countries indicate that some genebanks have implemented quality management procedures in their operations. About a quarter of the respondents applies the quality management standard ISO9001:2015, and more than half indicated that Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) are being used. The FAO Genebank Standards are very well known in the genebank community and seen as a good starting point for genebank certification, however, they will need careful review and adaptation.

As a result, only very few genebanks claim they comply with these standards completely. The FAO Genebank Standards are the only standards that are widely known and/or adopted in genebanks, although the ISTA rules for seed testing and the ECPGR Crop Specific elaborations of the FAO standards are also popular.

A genebank certification system should thus be based on the principles of ISO9001 and use the FAO Genebank Standards. These standards however lack elements regarding access to the genetic resources in the genebank (who can access and under what conditions?) and continuity (what happens if the genebank stops?). Furthermore, some elements of the FAO Genebanks Standards will need specification (e.g. phytosanitary requirements) or generalization (e.g. viability testing protocols).

At some stage, an organization with sufficient authority will be required that will

  • Verify that the SOPs of a genebank comply with the adapted FAO Genebank Standards,
  • Audit the genebanks to verify that the SOPs are applied (unless ISO9001 auditing is already done), and
  • Do the certification.

There is a large willingness in the European genebank community to collaborate towards the goals of genebank quality improvement and certification, and there is a lot of expertise to build on. However, keeping everyone on board will require very much capacity building both in terms of knowledge and facilities. 

Deliverable D2.1 was led by WR, in collaboration with INIAV, KIS, NASC, UOB, UPV, VURV, WORLDVEG

For more information, download the Deliverable report.