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Bertram, R.B. 1993. New crops and the international agricultural research centers. p. 11-22. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

New Crops and the International Agricultural Research Centers

Robert B. Bertram

    1. Center Mandates
    1. Mandate Crops
    2. Genetic Resources
    3. New Crops as Genetic Resources
    4. Farming Systems Research
  7. Table 1
  8. Table 2
  9. Table 3
  10. Table 4

The image of the International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs) is not one which immediately brings to mind new crops. As institutions, the Centers are best known for their contributions to crops which are distinctly "old" and established such as rice and wheat. To these crops that are familiar around the globe can be added commodities more restricted to the developing countries of the tropics and subtropics such as cassava, millet, or pigeonpea; some of this latter group may be considered new crops in areas where they have not traditionally been cultivated. In addition, in a few cases, IARCs carry out research on truly novel crops, developed or domesticated only recently.

Generally, each international Center is connected to a relatively few, "mandate" crops. This is not an accident--they have sought to target their limited resources on areas with highest potential payoff. Despite this focus on a limited number of major crops, the Centers have made significant contributions in the area of new crops. These include a truly new crop, triticale, as well as several ancient crops that are little known outside their region of origin, and thus can be considered as new. In other cases, international Centers have played key roles in introducing a new crop to a region. Breeding programs have in some cases broadened the adaptability of a crop to a point where it can be grown outside its area of traditional adaptation--tropical wheats or day length insensitive pigeonpeas are examples (Villareal and Klatt 1985). Other Center activities, such as genetic resources and farming systems programs frequently include work on minor or new crop species.

Some of the means by which Centers conduct their principle research programs (germplasm collections, international nurseries, collaborative networks) can be readily adapted to species that are new crops. They can serve as focal points for regional or international interest in a particular species, even if not conducting extensive research on the crop. Thus, in addition to actual research contributions, international Centers can provide some minor new crop species with an institutional home, through which interested workers can access germplasm and each others' contributions. Increased emphasis on natural resources (including genetic resources) and the environment, as well as the growing applicability of biotechnology, may offer expanded opportunities for international Center contributions in the area of new crops.


The IARCs occupy a pivotal position in global agricultural research, a collective endeavor that is increasingly international in scope. Their principal responsibility is to improve, through research, the agricultural production systems of developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This effort includes substantial involvement of scientists in developing countries, particularly those of the national agricultural research systems. The IARCs incorporate an array of disciplines to achieve their objectives, from agronomy to molecular genetics to economic policy and management. Centers conduct work on a wide array of crops, and are important nodes in the flow of germplasm around the world.

Most of these research Centers are supported by a group of donors known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Founded in 1971, by donor countries and international organizations, the CGIAR provides a forum for supporters of international agricultural research to jointly consider and fund research on food production, hunger alleviation and natural resource conservation. Over time, the group has grown to include nearly 40 organizations, including multilateral development banks, United Nations agencies, several foundations and the international development agencies of many European, North American, and Pacific countries (CGIAR 1992). Several developing countries are also donors (e.g., Philippines, India, Brazil, Mexico). In addition to the donors themselves, the CGIAR system draws on two Secretariats (located at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Bank) and a Technical Advisory Committee made up of scientists from around the world.

Center Mandates

By 1992, some twenty years after the CGIAR was established (some Centers predate the CGIAR), the system has grown to include 17 research institutions. Most of these remain oriented to commodities, although increasingly the focus is on important production ecologies and natural resource management.

The largest single activity of the IARCs is crop breeding. This is an activity where the comparative advantage of transnational genetic improvement programs is clear. The product, improved seed, is an example of a discrete technology package that can be adopted easily by national researchers or farmers. The CGIAR efforts have been most successful for wheat and rice (Dalrymple 1986a,b), where the striking advances are known as the "green revolution." There has historically been a recognition that impact depends on well targeted efforts. This targeting of each Center's program is expressed in its mandate from the CGIAR system.

As noted above, the IARCs are hardly synonomous with new crops. Their crop focus lies on improvement of major, staple crops which constitute important dietary components for low-income producers and consumers in the developing world. This has been a successful strategy, as it is now estimated that gains in wheat and rice production associated with the IARCs provide enough additional food for more than one-half billion people (Anderson et al. 1988). There is general consensus that the IARCs should remain highly focussed institutions, and their mandates provide for this. The Center mandates, which can be at either the global or regional level, are the subject of considerable and on-going study expressed through a variety of criteria and the resulting program emphasis. Table 1 presents a general scheme for the development of mandates.

During the 1960s, the IARCs concentrated on cereal crops (rice, wheat, maize) seen as holding the best promise of quickly increasing food production; these commodities offered the best opportunities for preventing food shortages, especially in Asia where widespread famine was predicted. After initial successes, the IARC system expanded through the 1970s to include legumes, to provide better nutrition, and roots and tubers (potato, sweet potato, cassava, and aroids), which were particularly important foods in many poorer, rural areas. Livestock were added for their critical role in areas of Africa, and forage work was undertaken in support of animal agriculture in Africa and Latin America. By the early 1980s, increased attention was given to food policy and research management and natural resources. Most recently, several new Centers have been added emphasizing natural resource management, forestry, and agroforestry.


Of all the international Centers, only the IBPGR is broadly identified with new crops and economic botany. Established in 1974, the IBPGR has a unique role in fostering collection, characterization, and conservation of plant genetic resources. From its inception, it has worked with many researchers on all kinds of lesser-known crops, both woody and herbaceous. An excellent discussion of IBPGR's activity in relation to new crops is given in Mark Perry's paper in the first symposium in this series (Perry 1988). IBPGR work in this area has many direct linkages to the work on new crops at other IARCs and in other research programs around the world.

Four areas of IBPGR activity can be emphasized in relation to new crops. First, is their support of germ-plasm collecting and conservation; many of the species included in IBPGR register of genebank collections can be considered new crops. Some examples, to name a few, are amaranth, lupin, and a number of cucurbits (Luffa, Momordica, Tricosanthes, and others). IBPGR has also collaborated extensively with the IARCs in collecting the germplasm of minor species related to principal mandate crops of the Centers. In recent years, the collection emphasis on wild relatives has increased. For example, by 1986, 16% of collections made in IBPGR sponsored trips were wild materials (IBPGR 1988). The number of forage collections, which are essentially wild material, increased to more than one-fourth of all collected samples by the late 1980s. In some cases, groups of wild relatives have received special attention, for example wheat relatives of the tribe Triticeae. Such efforts involve on-going planning, sponsoring of symposia and other activities in support of broad-based research on crop relatives.

Another important contribution of the IBPGR has been through the development of taxonomic descriptors; these are especially important in collecting and exchanging germplasm. A few examples of note are descriptor lists for kodo millet, winged bean, quinoa, and bambarra groundnut. In line with growing interest in wild relatives, in 1990 IBPGR published descriptors for wild species of Arachis, Brassica, Raphanus, and eggplant (IBPGR 1991).

A third important contribution of the IBPGR is its publication, jointly with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, of the Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter. The newsletter contains articles and brief notes on a wide array of economically important species and their genepools. This is an excellent and important forum for those interested in lesser known species, where opportunities for information exchange and publication may be more limited.

In recent years, the IBPGR has initiated a series of eco-geographic genepool surveys based on review of herbarium materials and supplemented with field work. Some of these are directly relevant to new crops. For example, in 1991, IBPGR published The Distribution of Hibiscus L. section Furcaria in Tropical East Africa (Edmonds 1991). This group includes two important new crops, kenaf and rosella. Kenaf in particular has generated a good deal of interest and was the subject of several papers in the first and second symposium in this series. IBPGR initiated this work in cooperation with the International Jute Organization and several international donor agencies interested in alternative fiber crops.

IBPGR, although holding no materials of its own, and for the most part, working through other national and international research organizations, has had an important and stimulating effect within the CGIAR Centers. Over time, the large commodity-oriented IARCs have given increasing attention to minor species and wild materials related to their mandate crops (Table 2). IBPGR activity has directly supported the efforts of other IARCS, often providing a base for larger and later involvement by an IARC. A good example is the recent decision by the International Potato Center (CIP) to increase its effort on several Andean roots and tubers (CIP 1991); IBPGR has for some time carried out germplasm collecting and conservation efforts for these crops. Both IBPGR and CIP conduct these efforts jointly with national programs of the Andean countries.


Despite the pressures to have a narrowly focused research program, the IARCs developed a number of activities in support of their program objectives which directly relate to the subject of new crops. Two aspects of Centers' programs have been of particular importance: genetic resources conservation and farming systems research. A third case is unique. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center has a new crop, triticale, fully within its research mandate. This third avenue might be categorized as new crops representing special, significant research opportunities. In some respects, the inclusion of triticale could be done at very modest cost because the new crop program could be operated in tandem with the much larger, existing wheat program--in a sense offering a "research economy of scale." These three areas can overlap; when they do, the decision to allocate research resources to a new crop is more likely. Each of these three principal avenues for Center involvement is discussed below.

Mandate Crops

Triticale. Probably no other example of a new crop is as associated with the international Centers as triticale. Though dating as a crop from the 1920s and 1930s, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) began working with the crop in the 1960s. The work was initially a joint program with Canadian scientists who had been improving the crop since the early 1950s. There were several reasons behind the decision to allocate research resources to the new crop. Triticale had excellent potential for adaptability to a number of the environments for which CIMMYT was breeding wheat, particularly due to its tolerance of adverse soil and climatic conditions. Although grain quality at the time was poor, it contained high levels of protein and the amino acid lysine. These attributes generated considerable support for research on the crop, as protein was of considered the most significant nutritional deficiency by the wider research and development communities. Another significant factor was CIMMYT's ability to conduct a global triticale improvement program built on the its large, well-established wheat program.

The story of triticale at CIMMYT, detailed in the 1988 National Research Council Report (1988), is an exciting one, filled with hard work and some luck (Vietmeyer 1989). When work first began, the crop was plagued by lodging, poor seed set, and shriveled seed. A major breakthrough occurred when the accidental pollination of a triticale by a semidwarf bread wheat gave rise to significantly improved triticales. From that breakthrough, the progress made over the last 25 years has been very impressive. Yields of triticales now vie with the best breadwheats (Rowe pers. commun.), and test weight and grain quality for most uses has been greatly improved. The crop has been adopted widely, and is now grown on about 1.7 million ha worldwide. Most of the area lies outside the developing countries.

This concentration of tritcale area and interest in the more developed temperate areas presents a major policy dilemma for a Center like CIMMYT, where the main objective is to meet the needs of developing countries. CIMMYT breeders and leadership continue to believe that triticale has a great deal of relevance to many areas of the developing world. However, the extent to which a major program can be justified without sufficient interest from client groups is a problem, especially during a period of declining real funding. Triticale is not the only example of a fine product of research that has yet to find a strong constituency--the high quality protein maizes have also been greatly improved, but have yet to find a demand among national program researchers or farmers in developing countries.

Pearl millet. Pearl millet is a highly nutritious cereal crop for millions of people in the semi-arid regions of the Indian subcontinent and Africa, especially in the Sahel. As a major staple in developing countries, particularly among low income producers and consumers, it received attention from the CGIAR donors in the establishment of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Its particular strengths include good stand establishment and drought resistance in highly stressful environments. Outside the tropics, most interest in pearl millet has been as a forage crop (Burton 1990). More recently, interest has increased in pearl millet as a grain crop. An excellent discussion of progress in pearl millet breeding and its potential as new crop is presented by Andrews et al. (1993), elsewhere in this symposium. ICRISAT's breeding and genetic resources programs are an important source of genetic variability for researchers interested in pearl millet, and are good examples of how IARCs can contribute to work on new crops outside the regions where they normally work.

Pigeonpea. Also an ICRISAT crop, pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) is a semi-woody shrub, traditionally requiring a long season for pod production. In order to increase the crop's utility in a variety of farming systems, ICRISAT breeders have developed short-duration and extra-short duration lines with decreased photoperiod sensitivity. In addition to their allowing the crop to be grown in new ways in drier tropical regions, they appear to have potentially good adaptation outside the tropics. Trials conducted using ICRISAT materials between 32°N and 46° latitudes have given yields between 1 and 4 tonnes/ha (Nene 1992 pers. commun.). Thus, researchers in the United States, New Zealand, Korea, and elsewhere are experimenting with ICRISAT-bred pigeonpeas. Pigeonpea, with its many excellent attributes, may eventually be produced more widely in temperate areas. This would be an example of the way in which Centers can contribute in the area of new crops.

Forage crops. The CGIAR Centers have sought to strengthen animal production systems in two principal ways, by conducting research on animals themselves and through development of improved forage crops. Most of the latter are based on the use of wild species and can, in themselves, be considered new crops. In many cases, legume pastures are critical components of rotation systems and are important to sustaining long-term productivity. As in the case of other crops, a range of research activity takes place, from collecting and conservation to screening, seed production and in some cases, sophisticated breeding.

The largest CGIAR effort of this kind is the tropical pastures program at CIAT, which is focused on the lowland tropics of Latin America. A major thrust of the program has been to develop grasslegume mixes emphasizing African grasses and native South American legumes. The latter in particular tend to be poorly adapted to the highly acid soils of the llanos and cerrados, extensive savannas covering large areas of Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil. Improved mixtures allow for increased sustainability and carrying capacity of pastures in the savannas. They are also seen as having significant promise for enhancing land fertility, and offering better opportunity for integration of crops in a rotation system. Materials are disseminated to national programs chiefly through the International Tropical Pastures Evaluation Network, which reaches 20 countries and over 300 researchers. Species thought to have the greatest potential in lowland pasture systems include several grasses: Andropogon gayanus, Brachyaria brizantha, B. dictyoneura, B. humidicola, and Panicum maximum. The most promising legume species include: Arachis pintoi, Centrosema acutifolium, C. brasilianum, C. macrocarpum, C. pubescens, Desmodium ovalifolium, Stylosanthes capitata, and S. guianensis.

For the cool, wet winter areas of North Africa and Southwest Asia, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) conducts a program emphasizing the role of leguminous pastures and forage crops in cultivated areas and the more marginal grazing areas. Genera of importance include many legumes (e.g., Pisum, Vicia, Trifolium, Medicago, Trigonella, and Lathyrus) and several forage grasses. In addition to forage accessions in the above and many other species, the ICARDA germplasm collection also contains several hundred accessions of Rhizobium strains for nodulation and nitrogen fixation in various leguminous hosts.

The International Livestock Center for Africa (ILCA) conducts an animal feed resources program which includes extensive screening of species for pastures and fodder banks. The Center's programs are directed toward cooler, high altitude regions, through mid-altitude areas, to a range of lowland areas including humid, sub-humid, and semi-arid zones. The ILCA forage germplasm collection contains more than 10,000 accessions of grasses, legumes, and browse species. The program actively distributes germplasm for screening and selection by national researchers; in 1989, for example, nearly 7,000 accessions were sent out in response to 245 requests (ILCA 1989). The Center recently established its herbage seed unit in response to national requests for additional training and technology transfer in forage seed handling. In support of increased use of multi-purpose trees, where traditional field collection methods are difficult, ILCA is working on in-vitro cultures as a means to conserve, multiply, and distribute tree germplasm.

Agroforestry. The International Council for Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF) recently joined the CGIAR, changing its name to the International Center for Research on Agroforestry. Based in Kenya, the Center conducts a program of research and outreach on the integration of woody species into agricultural production systems. Like the other Centers, it distributes germplasm to national programs for screening and potential inclusion in national research and extension activities. A wide range of trees are evaluated for use in many different environments. Important genera include both legumes, e.g., Leucaena, Sesbania, Cassia, Acacia, and non-legumes, e.g., Grevillea and Eucalyptus. As part of its expanding research program, the Center is enlarging its efforts in genetics an germplasm conservation of multi-purpose trees.

Interest in agroforestry is increasing as a source not only for timber and fuelwood, but as a means to increase nutrient cycling and long-term sustainability of tropical production systems. Several other Centers also conduct research on multi-purpose trees; an example is IITA's longstanding alley cropping program which involves research and extension aimed towards developing sustainable, economic alternatives to slash and burn agriculture, and resulting deforestation. At present, a new CGIAR tropical forestry research institution is being set up in Southeast Asia which will focus on sustainable tropical forestry.

Genetic Resources

In connection with their plant breeding activity, most Centers have developed comprehensive, well-run genetic resource programs. In the early years, these were tied closely to the commodity breeding programs, but over time, as interest in plant genetic resources has grown, the scope of their work has broadened to include entire genepools for their mandate crops. Thus, land races, related crops and wild relatives are generally included in the germplasm collections of the IARCS. Table 2 presents a summary of genetic resources conserved in the genebanks located at international Centers.

The bulk of the holdings are accessions of the staple crops of the Center mandates. Some, such as pigeonpea and pearl millet, mandate crops of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, may be considered new crops in the United States (as witnessed by papers in both the current and previous symposia). In such cases, Centers' genetic resources and breeding programs may be important sources of genetic variability to workers in countries where the crops have not been traditionally grown.

Wild materials in cultivated or related species are increasingly included in genetic resources collections at Centers. New research techniques such as embryo rescue, tissue culture, or the use of molecular markers may make the rich genetic diversity of such materials increasingly accessible. Generally, it would be expected that the principle use of tertiary genetic resource would be in the improvement of current crops. However, the development of novel, interspecific, or even intergeneric combinations cannot be ruled out, with triticale being an excellent example of the last.

New Crops as Genetic Resources

Tepary bean. A case in point is Phaseolus acutifolius or tepary bean. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), located in Colombia, conducts a common bean (P. vulgaris) breeding program under a global mandate from the CGIAR. As part of the Center's breeding strategy, it has sought to explore the genepools of related species--both cultivated and wild materials.

In addition to over 30,000 accessions of P. vulgaris, the CIAT collection has some four thousand accessions of three cultivated and eleven wild species of Phaseolus (Hidalgo 1988). Tepary is of particular interest because of its adaptation to dry climates. CIAT has amassed a collection of 271 accessions of which 126 are cultivated and 145 are wild (M. Iwanaga pers. commun.). Sixty percent are Mexican in origin and 26% are from the southwestern United States. As always, these materials are collected or obtained in collaboration with researchers in the country of origin, and duplicate accessions remain in that country. Collected materials are subsequently made available to any researcher.

This germplasm has been evaluated at CIAT for some 24 plant descriptors and 5 seed characters. The cultivated types have been screened for response to disease resistance and three insect pests of beans: Empoasca, Zabrotes, and Acanthoscelides. Wild forms have been collected more recently and are just beginning to be evaluated. CIAT scientists have used embryo rescue techniques and backcrosses in attempts to introduce tepary traits into common bean. They are now seeking to do this using DNA markers; the specific objectives of this work are bacterial blight resistance and drought tolerance. CIAT maintains close links with researchers interested in tepary at the the University of California at Riverside and elsewhere.

Minor millets. As part of its responsibilities for crops grown in the semi-arid tropics, ICRISAT has since 1976 conducted collection, conservation, and distribution of the minor millet species, in addition to pearl millet, one of its mandate crops (Table 3). Until recently, most of the activity on these crops was confined to collecting, conserving, and distributing their genetic resources. The collection continues to grow, and is actively used. In 1990, 164 new accessions from India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Zimbabwe were added, and over 2,500 samples were distributed to research and plant germplasm programs in India, Kenya, Korea, Nepal, Sudan, the United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (ICRISAT 1990).

ICRISAT scientists have targeted three of the minor millets for increased research attention: finger millet, foxtail millet, and proso millet. The Indian national program conducts research program on the latter two. In response to interest from researchers in eastern and southern Africa, ICRISAT in 1987, began to expand its work on finger millet to include screening and genetic improvement in, primarily focused on blast resistance. This decision was subsequently confirmed in the Center's strategic planning and the crop was formally added to ICRISAT's mandate. This increased emphasis on a wider range of components important in regional production systems--termed by the CGIAR Technical Advisory Committee as the "eco-regional" approach--is leading to a greater role for new crops at the IARCs (see discussion of Andean tubers, below).

Vegetables. Although not a CGIAR-sponsored Center, the Asian Vegetable Research and Develpment Centre (AVRDC), located in Taiwan, pursue similar objectives for the vegetable crops in its mandate, and is supported by many of the same donor agencies. A significant challenge in defining the AVRDC program has been the great diversity of vegetable crops used around the world. The Center conducts research on the most important vegetable crops for Asia (vegetable soybean, tomato, mungbean, pepper, Chinese cabbage, and recently added eggplant and onion), and is currently developing regional programs of collaborative research with national programs on priority species for other areas, some of which can be considered new crops (Okigbo 1990). For example, Philippine and Indonesian researchers will provide leadership for research on yardlong bean (Vigna unguiculata), a regional favorite (Javier 1991 pers. commun.). Tanzania and other African countries are working with the Center to develop collaborative efforts on important African vegetables, including amaranth and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus).

In addition to research, AVRDC also operates a genetic resources program for conservation of vegetable species from around the world (total number of accessions, 35,948), many of which can be considered new crops. Table 4 lists some of the lesser-known species conserved by the Center's genetic resources program. In addition to the genebank, the Center, like IBPGR, conducts collaborative collecting expeditions with many national programs, fostering interest and support for work with lesser-known species as well as the Center's mandate species. Many of the IARCs provide an institutional base for developing country scientist interested in collecting or accessing germplasm of minor species.

Farming Systems Research

During the 1970s, there was a growing interest in devising agricultural technologies that were sensitive to prevailing farming systems and farmers' needs. Researchers paid increasing attention to the larger system of production within which they were working. Within the CGIAR Centers, one result of this effort was consideration of non-mandate crops which were nevertheless integral components of production systems. Centers began to experiment with a wide variety of crops which grow side by side maize, cassava, and other mandate crops. Even single crop Centers like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) began small programs covering integration of a variety of species in trials devoted to crop rotation or farm diversification in rice-based farming systems. Another program at IRRI studied the integration of Azolla, a blue-green algae and itself a new crop, as a source of added nitrogen in paddy rice. Farming systems programs were instituted at a number of Centers, and several of these became important sites for information and planting materials for what were essentially lesser known or new crops.

International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). A Center for which this trend was particularly relevant to new crops is the IITA, located in Nigeria. When the Center, inaugurated in 1969, came under the CGIAR umbrella in 1972, its trustees explicitly included the following in a statement of research emphasis: "Conduct exploratory studies with crops' potential usefulness in the humid tropics. Examples are lima, Jack, winged and yam beans, and Asian grams among the grain legumes, and potatoes and cocoyam among the root and tuber crops" (IITA 1973).

Some of the crops that IITA researchers experimented with went on to be incorporated into the Center's mandate--plantain and aroids (Colocasi, Xanthosoma) are the chief examples. True yams (Dioscorea spp.), were included among the Center's principal commodities from its inception. Legumes attracted considerable interest because of their potential for fixing nitrogen fixation and contributing to improved nutrition. Under the leadership of Dr. K.O. Rachie, The International Grain Legumes Information Centre was established as a clearinghouse for information and, in many cases, planting material for a wide array of legume crops. Thus, crops of local importance such as Bambarra groundnut (Voandezia subterranea) and Kersting's groundnut (Kerstingiella geocarpa), could both be integrated in farming system's research at the Center and distributed to researchers outside the Center.

In the 1980s, there was considerable pressure to narrow the mandates of the Centers--at least in terms of crop breeding--and at IITA, the scope of its efforts on new crops was reduced. Responsibility for the aroids in its mandate was turned over to national research programs in Nigeria and cameroon, and the emphasis on the lesser known legumes shifted towards germplasm conservation and away from experimentation. Current germplasm holdings at the Center are listed in Table 2; the Center's genetic resources unit continues to distribute materials on request. Studies on Bambarra groundnut have been undertaken, focusing on yield potential and ecogeographic differentiation. And now, with increasing interest in "ecoregional" approaches to production systems, the role of the crop in Nigerian farming systems is being evaluated by IITA researchers (Brader, pers. commun.). A resurgence of interest in agricultural and biolgical diversity may lead to increased IARC interest in minor species and new crops.

International Potato Center (CIP). In considering the ecoregional approach, the CIP, Lima, Peru, will undertake an integrated program to improve the productivity and sustainablity of Andean agricultural systems. One aspect of this effort will be the addition of several lesser-known Andean roots and tubers to its research and genetic resources programs. They include three tubers: oca (Oxalis tuberosa), ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus), and mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum); and three root crops: arracacha (Arracacia xanthorrhiza), yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia), and maca (Lepidium meyenii). As a group, they are uniquely adapted to highland environments and associated physical stresses; several have high yield potential and would be good candidates for plant breeding. Maca is noteworthy as one of the highest growing cultivated food plants in the world, reaching elevations of
4,000 m. It also has the distinction of being the sole Brassicaceae domesticate in the New World; in addition, it has a specialty market as an aphrodaisiac in Peru!

The new effort has grown out of a regional program involving CIP, IBPGR, and the national programs of the Andean countries. CIP has the advantage of being located in the Center of diversity, and has strong links to researchers in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, who share an interest in these little-known crops. In addition, many of the approaches that have been useful in the Center's potato and sweet potato research efforts can also be adapted to working with the Andean crops. And, in line with CGIAR system objectives, these crops are important to the livelihood of poorer farmers.

Despite the efforts of researchers, genetic diversity of these crops is being lost, and collections have been less comprehensive than desired. Some field collections have been lost due to pests but also due to lack of support and civil upheaval. Thus, a top priority for CIP will be collecting and safeguarding germplasm representing the range of environments where the commodities are grown. In addition to field collections duplicated at national and CIP research sites, the Center will develop an in vitro germplasm collection for more secure storage. Other possibilities include development of long-term cryogenic storage. As is the case with most vegetatively propagated crops, viral diseases are confirmed or suspected problems.

Initial CIP efforts indicate that tissue culture and thermotherapy can be used to generate virus-free planting material which can give increased yields. In addition, development of "clean" propagative materials is critical for germplasm exchange among countries within the region and beyond. For example, many of these species adapted to altitudes over 2,000 m may be adaptable to highland tropical and subtropical areas and some temperate regions. of all the crops native to the high Andes, only potato really took hold outside the region; many scientists believe that others could have wider appeal in the Andean region and beyond.


Improving techniques for successfully crossing species that are otherwise reproductively isolated are increasingly available to plant researchers; embryo rescue, for example, has been used to succesfully incorporate gones of wild Arachis spp. into cultivated groundut. At the IARCs, interest in wild species has generally been as a source of new resistance to pests and diseases. An example of the latter is the very successful efforts by IITA breeders to transfer genes for resistance to African Cassava Mosaic virus and bacterial blight into cassava from M. glaziovii (Beck 1982). Increasingly, breeders have been interested in more complex quantitative traits. K.B. Singh, in a joint ICARDA-ICRISAT program is developing lentils with much greater resistance to frost, based on the incorporation of genes from wild species of Lens which come from areas with severe winters.

The availability of new markers to track specific genes or traits in segregating populations, for example, RFLP markers for quantitative trait loci are enhancing the ability of researchers to select traits where specific types of introgression are desired. In many cases, the new genetic variability will result in relatively minor, though still significant changes in a crop. But it is also possible that wider combination of genepools will lead to novel developments similar to triticale. With their broad collections of germplasm of both cultivated and minor species, the international centers will be poised both to break new ground and to assist other researchers in doing so.


New crops will probably not be a major area of endeavor for the international agricultural research centers for the foreseeable future. Centers will, however, remain important sites for those interested in new crops, especially with regard to their roles in developing countries. Just as with more major crops such as rice, wheat, and maize, collaborative efforts between scientists and others interested in improving or adapting commodities for improved production will be a major feature of progress in breeding and other research efforts. Scientists in developing and developed countries will collaborate, with mutual benefit, and centers will be an active participant and conduit in the process. Genetic resources activities of the centers on wild species and other novel crops are increasing. Scientific techniques for both the storage and access of new types of variability is increasing in many crops. And consumer interest in both developing and developed countries may help to stimulate activity in new crop species on the part of both researchers and farmers.

Centers will continue their efforts to assist national programs in supporting and strengthening sustainable, productive and economically viable farming systems in developing countries. For the most part, this effort will maintain a tight focus on the "pile of rice," helping to ensure that hunger is alleviated and famine prevented. But diversity will also remain an important concept, in both its genetic and economic implications, and as such a broader concept of farming systems and the scope of their components may evolve. New crops will certainly have a role in the development of robust agricultural economies, and the international agricultural research centers will continue to play an important part in both research and especially research support as new crops continue to develop and take hold.


Table 1. IARC mandates as an expression of research priorities and strategies in roughly chronological order--1960s to the present.

Criteria Focus
Number of people fed Cereals
Improved nutrition, esp. protein Grain legumes
Regional, "safety-net" crops Roots/tubers
Mixed-farming, drier zones Livestock
Equity Farming systems/food policy
Research capacity Research management
Environment Natural resource management
Deforestation Forestry/agroforestry

Table 2. Germplasm holdings of IARCs (source: various CGIAR and IARC reports).

Center (Host countries) Species Number of
CIAT (Colombia) Common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) 35,950
other beans (Phaseolus spp.) 5,111
Cassava (Manihot esculenta) 4,600
Cassava wild relatives (Manihot spp.) 48
Forage legumes 17,982
Forage grasses 2,514
CIMMYT (Mexico) Maize (Zea mays, Tripsacum, Teosinte) 10,500
Cereals (Triticum aestivum, T. durum, Triticale, Hordeum) 62,000
CIP (Peru) Potato (Solanum tuberosum) 5,000
Potato wild relatives (Solanum spp.) 1,500
Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatus) 5,200
ICARDA (Syria) Cereals (Hordeum spp., Triticum spp., Triticale) 49,749
Food legumes (Vicia, Lens, Cicer) 16,890
Forages 19,952
ICRISAT (India) Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) 31,030
Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) 19,796
Minor millets (Pennisetum spp.) 6,610
Groundnut (Arachis spp.) 12,160
Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) 11,040
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) I5,564
IITA (Nigeria) Cassava (Manihot esculenta) 2,000
Plantain and banana (Musa spp.) 250
Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) 15,100
Cowpea relatives (Vigna spp.) 810
Rice (Oryza spp. ) 12,000
Soybean (Glycine max) 1,500
Yam (Dioscorea spp.) 1,000
Maize (Zea mays) 500
Bombara groundnut (Voandezia spp.) 2,000
ILCA (Ethiopia) Forage grasses 1,524
Forage legumes 6,443
Browse species 1,429
IRRI (Philippines) Rice (Oryza sativa) 78,420
African rice (O. glaberrima) 2,408
Wild relatives (Oryza spp.) 2,214
Other rices 21
WARDA (Ivory Coast) Rice (African and Asian) 5,600
AVRDC (Taiwan) Vegetables (tomato, mungbean, pepper, cabbage, amaranth, soybean, etc.) 32,200
(Originally compiled by Bertram for National Plant Genetic Resource Program Report to Congress 1991.)

Table 3. ICRISAT minor millet collection (1988 figures).

Species No. of
Eleusine coracana (finger millet) 2848
Setaria italica (foxtail millet) 1404
Panicum miliaceum (proso millet) 831
Panicum sumatrense (little millet) 401
Echinochloa spp. (barnyard millet) 582
Paspalum scrobiculatum (kodo millet) 544
Total 6610
Source: ICRISAT 1988 Annual Report

Table 4. Germplasm conserved by AVRDC: lesser-known crops (partial listing).

Genus Species Common name No. of
Abelmoschus esculentus, manihot okra, aibika 53
Amaranthus spp. amaranths 127
Basella alba Malabar spinach 3
Benincasa hispida wax gourd 29
Cajanus cajan pigeon pea 16
Clitoria ternatea butterfly pea 3
Dolichos lablab hyacinth bean 101
Ipomoea aquatica kangkong 4
Lagenaria siceraria gourd 34
Luffa spp. sponge gourd 64
Momordica charantia bitter gourd 34
Mucuna pruriens velvet bean 4
Pachyrhizus erosus yambean 12
Psophocaryus tetragonolobus winged bean 40
Sauropus androgynus chekkurmanis 4
Trichosanthes cucumerina snake gourd 2
Vigna angularis adzuki bean 153
mungo black bean 747
radiata mungbean 5,359
umbellata rice bean 295
unguiculata yardlong bean 335
Source: AVRDC Genetic Resources Unit, 1991.

Last update April 2, 1997 aw