Ex situ refers to the conservation of seeds or germplasm (plant genetic material) in gene banks, field gene banks or botanical gardens. Ex situ conservation plays an important complementary role to in situ, on-farm conservation. According to FAO, there are an estimated 7.4 million accessions (that is, seed or germplasm samples) in over 1,740 gene banks at the national and international level.
However, less than 30% of the accessions are believed to be distinct. Much of the diversity we need to meet tomorrow’s challenges is not stored in gene banks today – especially wild crop relatives and underutilized crop species. By one estimate, well over 90% of useful genetic variability may still be in the wild.
Thanks to decades-long campaigns by civil society, farmers and social movements, the crop germplasm held in international gene bank collections is largely off-limits to intellectual property claims or patents. To ensure farmers’ continued access to germplasm, both in situ and ex situ, peasant and civil society organizations are calling for the elimination of restrictive policies such as seed laws, intellectual property regimes, contracts and trade agreements, which create barriers to farm-based plant breeding, seed-saving and exchange. This section examines many of the world’s largest ex situ plant germplasm collections.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2010). The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources. Retrieved from fao.org