Crop Genebank Knowledge Base

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Crops Rice Conservation Distribution

Distribution of cultivated rice, wild rice and related genera genetic resources

Contributors to this page: T.T. Chang Genetic Resources Centre-IRRI, Los Baños, Philippines (Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, Ken McNally, Flora de Guzman, Renato Reaño, Soccie Almazan, Adelaida Alcantara, Elizabeth Naredo); WARDA, Cotonou, Benin (Ines Sánchez); UPLB-University of the Philippines at Los Baños (Teresita Borromeo).

Policies and regulations



Policies and regulations for distribution

Common policies on distribution and access to plant material

  • Establish a single 'gatekeeper' for all germplasm movement into and out of the organization, with a mandate to check for compliance with all necessary procedures and to advise staff what documents are needed and how to obtain them (to ensure full institutional compliance with obligations for germplasm sharing).
  • Most scientists working with germplasm do not understand the complexities of the policies and required procedures for germplasm distribution. Routing all germplasm distribution through a group of trained experts ensures that the institute complies with its obligations, even though most of their staff does not know those obligations.
  • Ensure that all staff (including the shipping office if the institute has one) know that all incoming and outgoing consignments of germplasm must be routed through the gatekeeper (to ensure that institutional policies are not bypassed).
  • All germplasm shipments must be governed by a Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) or other contract (it is essential to know the rights and obligations of both the provider and the recipient of the germplasm shipped:
    • Where possible and appropriate for the germplasm and purpose of transfer, use the Standard Material Transfer Agreement SMTA (all species of Oryza are included within the multilateral system of the Treaty. Use of the SMTA for all possible shipments, including cases where use of the SMTA is voluntary, simplifies administration of germplasm distribution) including: breeding and research material, as well as genebank accessions, germplasm from non-Party countries as well as Party countries and germplasm not under state control, as well as under state control.
  • Document the Intellectual Property (IP) status of all germplasm in the database, including any restrictions on its use and conditions under which it may be distributed (essential to ensure that the institute allows only duly authorized distribution and use of germplasm).

On receipt of any germplasm request:

  • Send acknowledgement of receipt of germplasm request.
  • Inform requestor of procedures and requirements, including obligations and rights associated with the transfer.
  • Ask the requestor to confirm acceptance of the conditions (verifying that the requestor is willing and able to comply with all conditions prevents unnecessary investment of resources in preparing a consignment that cannot be shipped).
  • In the database, assign a germplasm request ID and record the details of the requestor, the request and the purpose (records must be kept of all transactions, both for the purpose of tracking progress through handling a germplasm request and for subsequent reporting on germplasm distribution).

Seeds are packed in different packing materials (coin envelop, cloth bags, foil packs, tin cans and net bags) depending on the type of seed material and place of destination (photo: IRRI)

Packed seeds ready to be sent out (photo: IRRI)

Policy exceptions

  • No MTA is needed for distribution within an organization (e.g. from genebank to breeder), unless desired for awareness-raising (distribution within a legal entity technically does not normally need an (S)MTA, assuming the organization takes corporate responsibility to comply with obligations; however, if there is doubt whether staff are aware of their role in complying with institutional obligations, use of an internal MTA can be a valuable tool for raising awareness).
  • Do not use the SMTA for purposes outside the scope of the SMTA, i.e. for use other than for breeding, research and training for food and agriculture, including:
    • Non food/animal feed use.
    • Direct commercial use.
    • Undertaking specific tests as a service for the provider, not as part of the recipient’s own research.

National laws and regulations

  • Exporting country may require an export permit.
  • Importing country may require:
    • Import permit.
    • Phytosanitary certificate.
    • GMO declaration.
    • Customs declaration.

International laws and regulations

  • The seed shipment should be sent with the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA and MTA) even for non Annex I species using appropriate footnotes (CGIAR centres have signed an agreement with the ITPGRFA (plant treaty) which covers use of the SMTA).
  • For wild rice, many countries require special import permits because of its status as noxious or invasive species; such permits may be issued only to organizations with recognized and regulated containment facilities preventing the escape of material into the environment.

Phytosanitary regulations

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User related issues for distribution

A successful effective distribution involves a protracted dialogue and collaborative exercise between genebank and user.

Feedback to users

Items requiring feedback to user include:

  • Send acknowledgement of receipt of request.
  • Inform requestor of procedures, required documents and the recipient’s rights and obligations over germplasm transferred, and answer any related questions the requestor may have.
  • Ask the requestor to confirm acceptance of the terms and conditions of the transfer and in particular of the MTA.
  • Ask the requestor for clarification of doubts, e.g. about the germplasm requested, about arrangements for shipping, or about apparent errors or other discrepancies in information provided by the requestor.
  • Inform the requestor of the likely time frame for completing the request.
  • If the request did not include a list of specific accession IDs, notify or consult with the user how accessions will be selected based on the requestor’s criteria.
  • Inform the requestor of the availability of selected accessions and suggest alternatives for unavailable accessions.
  • Ask the requestor to confirm the final selection of accessions before preparing them for distribution.
  • Inform the requestor when the consignment has been shipped.
  • Give the requestor access to associated information on the accessions.

Processing time

May be one day for internal transfers without MTA or health testing, one week for local transfers, one to two months for international transfers including seed testing.

Processing time will depend on:

  • How specific the request is – longer time is needed for ill defined or ambiguous requests requiring additional consultation with the requestor, and for requests requiring detailed analysis to choose suitable accessions.
  • The number of accessions requested.
  • Seed health testing and phytosanitary requirements.
  • The difficulty of obtaining an import permit from the importing or the exporting country.
  • The duration of shipping.
  • Post-import quarantine procedures of the importing country.
  • The need to coordinate shipping date with the requestor’s planned sowing date.

Customer assurance

When the request is not clear

  • If the request is not clear or appears to contain errors or other discrepancies, ask the requestor to clarify (the recommended best practice is long and often cumbersome. It reflects current reality in the way requests should be handled to make them as effective as possible. The detail also reflects the importance of matching distribution to needs).

When the request is specific

  • If the request specifies a list of particular accession IDs, check those accessions for availability (see 'check availability' section below) inform the requestor (the key to making a good selection of accessions to distribute is to have ready access to data relevant to users’ requests: future improvements in the nature, quality and availability of relevant data may be expected to simplify the operation and improve its effectiveness).
  • For accessions that are not available, suggest alternative providers or alternative accessions.

When the request is not specific

  • If the request does not list particular accession IDs, it will be necessary to choose a set of accessions to satisfy the requestor’s needs. This will involve deciding first how to choose the set.

Choosing the sources of information

First steps:

  • Assess the request to judge the best source(s) of information on which to base a response:
    • The genebank’s own database.
    • Other databases accessible to the genebank curator.
    • Personal knowledge held by the curator or other genebank staff.
    • Published works or other information on the Web.
    • Knowledge held by other experts in the same institution – in this case, consult the relevant experts to seek their advice.
  • If the information required to select appropriate accessions is available online, inform the requestor and offer two options:
    • The requestor performs the online search.
    • Genebank staff or other relevant experts perform the search on behalf of the requestor.
  • If the information search is not straightforward, for example:
    • it requires a complex GIS or other statistical analysis; or
    • the request specifies criteria on which there is no information, and can only be satisfied by specifying a surrogate search representing a best guess at the information that could be used for selecting accessions (e.g. the requestor is searching for resistance to a new disease on which there is no prior information);
    • then consult further with the requestor: tell the requestor what other potentially relevant data are available, propose a surrogate search or analysis, and seek agreement on how to choose appropriate accessions.
  • If the search requires an analysis too complex and protracted for routine application, and if the request comes early enough during the requestor’s proposed research programme, consider suggesting participation as a full collaborator in a project proposal to ensure the optimal choice of accessions.
  • If no agreement can be reached on criteria for selecting accessions to meet the requestor’s needs, consider offering a core collection selected for diversity; this will at least provide the user with a wide range of material for initial studies, albeit not matched to the user’s needs.

Deciding for a wider search:

  • Based on the request, information available and agreed selection strategy, assess whether to search only among the accessions held by the genebank or to extend the search to include other genebanks or germplasm held by others outside the genebank, e.g. breeders or other scientists in the same institute or elsewhere.
    • If appropriate, forward the request to possible providers of appropriate germplasm and request feedback from them.
    • If appropriate, hand over responsibility for satisfying the request to the most appropriate provider.
    • If there will be more than one provider, consider whether to consolidate into one transaction (e.g. if the providers are different scientists from one legal entity) or process as different transactions.

Last steps:

  • If the above process leads to a search of accessions from the genebank, conduct the specified search and generate a list of selected available accessions:
    • Option 1: restrict the search only to available accessions.
    • Option 2: search all accessions, and subsequently verify their availability (see check availability section below).
  • Send a list of suggested genebank accessions to the requestor and ask whether the list is acceptable.
  • Repeat consultations, searching and verifying availability as often as necessary until the requestor accepts the proposed list of accessions.

Feedback from users

Feedback prior to shipment

  • Criteria for selecting appropriate accessions, as precisely as possible (the clearer the request, the easier to select accessions – the easiest case is a list of accession IDs provided by the requestor).
  • Statement of purpose:
    • Essential: an SMTA cannot be issued without knowing that the requestor’s purpose complies with the SMTA.
    • Desirable: knowing the requestor’s purpose can improve the selection (for example if a variety name is specified without an accession ID and multiple genetically distinct accessions share the same variety name, knowing the purpose may help to identify which particular accession ID is wanted).
  • Acceptance of terms and conditions:
    • Essential to obtain a statement from the requestor that the terms and conditions of transfer are accepted.
    • Desirable to seek acceptance early, to avoid wasting efforts for users that cannot accept.
  • Import permit, if required.
  • Additional phytosanitary requirements (countries’ phytosanitary regulations change; often the best way to keep up to date is for the requestor to provide the latest information on the specific requirements of the requestor’s country).
  • Desired shipping date to accommodate planting date (in some cases it may be essential to coordinate closely with the requestor’s intended planting date. For example, some countries require all seed to be heat-treated to kill nematodes; seeds must be planted within one month of such treatment or they will die).
  • Desired shipping arrangements: method of shipping, port of entry, consignee’s name and address, shipping address.

Feedback after shipment

  • The requestor should notify when the shipment is received in good condition (not required, but desirable as it marks the successful end of the shipping process).
  • Research results obtained by the user (not required, but desirable as it helps build the body of knowledge on diversity in the collection).

Quantity of material recommended to be distributed

Cultivated rice

  • 10 g per accession - free of charge (sufficiently large to satisfy most research purposes and even for use by farmers, especially after seed increase by recipient; sufficiently small to enable many samples to be distributed from a single seed increase by the genebank).
  • Larger quantities may be subject to charges for shipping and preparation costs (distribution of larger quantities typically requires additional cycles of regeneration, requiring larger-than-routine financial investment by the genebank and potentially increasing delays for other users.

Wild rice

  • 20 seeds per accession (wild rice species produce only small quantities of seeds).

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Procedures for distribution

Initial preparations

Registering the request

  • Register all requests in the database, assigning a request ID, with information on the request, the requestor, and the date (this step should be the first action on receipt of a request).
  • Requests may also be registered in a paper log book.

Monitoring progress through the request

  • If available, use a computerized genebank management system to monitor progress through each request.
  • For streamlined management of large numbers of requests, details and current status and completed elements of each active request should be recorded temporarily (for as long as the request is actively being processed) on a white board or similar display visible to the whole team.

Initial interaction with requestor

  • Send a letter of acknowledgement to the requestor.
  • Inform the requestor of procedures, required documents and the recipient’s rights and obligations over transferred germplasm, and answer any related questions the requestor may have (necessary to guard against unintentional inappropriate use of the germplasm by the requestor).
  • Ask the requestor to confirm acceptance of the terms and conditions of the transfer and in particular of the MTA – either in person, if so authorized, or through the authorized representative of the requestor’s institute (necessary as early as possible to avoid wasting resources on a consignment that the requestor cannot accept).
  • If the requestor does not accept the terms and conditions:
    • Negotiate revised terms and conditions if possible and appropriate.
    • Cancel the request if negotiation is not possible (e.g. for the SMTA) or if negotiations fail.
  • Inform the requestor of the likely time frame for completing the request.
  • Ask the requestor to provide:
    • An import permit, if required by the requestor’s country – original, or paper copy or electronic copy depending on the regulations of the requestor’s country.
    • Any additional information on specific phytosanitary tests to be conducted.
    • Desired shipping arrangements: method of shipping, port of entry, consignee’s name and address, shipping address.

Selection of germplasm for distribution

Follow the procedures specified in customer assurance, ensuring full interaction with the requestor as specified in the feedback to users and feedback from users, to produce:

  • A list of accessions to be provided by the genebank.
  • A list of other germplasm samples to be provided by others in the same legal entity and shipped in the same consignment.
  • A list of other germplasm samples to be independently provided by different organizations.

Genebank procedures to select germplasm

These should only apply to accessions to be provided by the genebank.


Check availability

Check seed/plant propagules

  • Not necessary if best practices have been followed for initial seed processing and storage (the identity of all accessions should have been verified against the seed file prior to processing and storage).
  • If seed were not verified against the seed file prior to storage, do so prior to distribution.

Availability in stock and the requirements for material transfer agreements

  • Check the IP status of the accession in the database to determine whether legal / IP status of the accession prevents its distribution (an accession is available for distribution only if it was obtained or developed under conditions that permit distribution. The database should contain information on the legal availability of each accession, including the conditions for distribution, e.g. whether it is available for distribution with SMTA under the multilateral system of the Treaty).
  • Use the inventory management to assess availability and identify the particular seed lot to be used.
  • The accession is available if:
    • A pre-pack is available (this is a top priority for satisfying requests) – this will be used to satisfy the request; or
    • A pre-pack is not available (this is a second priority for satisfying requests) but the bulk sample of the most recent generation of the accession still has more than the minimum quantity and viability of seed and has passed previous routine seed health tests – this bulk sample will be used to satisfy the request and at the same time to create additional pre-packs.
  • The accession is not available if neither of the two previous conditions is true (other seed lots of the accession should not be used for distribution. Remnant bulk samples of older generations of the accession in the active collection should be kept only for seed increase. Most Original Samples (MOS) and samples in the base collection are kept only for long-term conservation, not for distribution.

Preparing samples for distribution

List of accessions available

  • See also customer assurance section. Based on the agreement with the user, prepare a worksheet:
    • Specifying Accession ID, Tray ID (location in storage), Seed Lot ID (the specific seed packet to be withdrawn, the amount to be withdrawn.
    • Leave space for recording observations, errors in inventory, actual unavailability of seed (possible errors in the computerized inventory management system may result in the case that a database query shows an accession as available whereas in fact it is not).
  • Sorted by Tray ID and accession ID (sorting by location in the cold store speeds the process of withdrawal).

Generating labels

  • For each accession to be retrieved from the cold store as a bulk sample, prepare labels as needed for new pre-packs as needed (usually three per accession):
    • Usually one for immediate distribution in the current consignment.
    • Usually two for storage in the active collection ready for future distribution.
  • See the container specification of active genebanks section for wild rice and cultivated rice for label content and labelling procedure.
  • If best practices have been followed for preparing pre-packs for distribution in advance (see the container specification of active genebanks section for the cultivated rice and the wild rice, new labels will need to be generated only for accessions where there are no remaining stocks of pre-packs. In this case, bulk packs will be withdrawn from the active collection, and new labels will need to be prepared for new pre-packs of those accessions).
  • If pre-packs are not prepared in advance, this step will apply to all accessions and only one new pack will be prepared and labelled per accession, namely the packet to be shipped in the consignment.

Labelling the accession containers

See above and the container specifications of the active genebanks section for cultivated rice and wild rice: only newly-prepared pre-packs will be labelled.

Cross checking inventory files with actual seed stocks

While withdrawing the specified seed packet(s) (bulk and/or pre pack) of each accession (by this stage (preparing samples for distribution), the computer inventory should already have been checked for availability (in the previous check availability section), and only available accessions will appear on the list:

  • Cross-check the actual presence of seed packets in the tray against the presence documented in the inventory management system and printed on the worksheet.
  • Record on the worksheet any inventory discrepancies for subsequent correction in the database, updating the inventory records.
  • Mark accession as unavailable if actual quantity is insufficient.

Removing containers from genebank and acclimatization procedures required

  • Referring to the printed worksheet that lists the locations, accessions and specific seed lots of each accession (see List of accessions available above, in this section) withdraw the specified seed packet(s) (bulk and/or pre pack).
  • Equilibrate at room temperature for 1-2 days before opening.

Ensuring accuracy in identification

  • After withdrawing all packets, double-check packets against the proof sheet, checking for correspondence of Accession ID, Seed Lot ID, and variety name or other designation.

Correcting errors

  • Correct the database for any errors discovered in the inventory.
  • Change any packets withdrawn in error to the correct packet.
  • If any accessions have had to be removed from the list because of inventory discrepancies, inform the requestor, suggest/negotiate alternatives, and modify the list accordingly.

Extracting samples from the original containers

  • Separate the withdrawn seed packets into two groups: pre-packs and bulk packs.
  • For samples withdrawn as pre-packs:
    • Set aside - they are fully ready for submission to export procedures with no need for opening or re-packing (except that subsequent phytosanitary testing may involve opening and resealing of some or all).
    • Update the inventory management system by subtracting the number of pre-packs removed (normally 1).
  • For samples withdrawn as bulk packs:
    • Transfer to the dehumidified seed packing room.
    • Handle one accession at a time, cut open the bulk pack, check the status of the self-indicating silica gel, double check identity of labels on bulk and pre-packs, pour 10g seed into each labeled pre-pack, heat seal the pre-packs, place a newly perforated packet of silica gel in the bulk, re-seal the bulk, re-weigh the bulk and record its new weight in the inventory management system (further details in the container specification of active genebanks section for cultivated rice and  wild rice).
    • Set aside the pre-pack(s) prepared for the current consignment.
    • Return the re-sealed bulks and the other new pre packs of each accession to the assigned location in the cold store.
    • Update the inventory management system for stocks of pre-packs by adding the number of new pre-packs stored .

Final preparation by genebank

  • Arrange all pre-packs for the current consignment by accession ID.
  • Generate a final list for proofreading.
  • Label by hand with a sequence number (numbering packets sequentially within a consignment facilitates subsequent tracking of samples through the remainder of the shipping process).
  • Generate a final verified list.

Phytosanitary inspection and certification

  • Assemble documents required for phytosanitary processing: import permit; specifications of tests required by the importing country; details of previous phytosanitary tests of the same materials.
  • Submit the consignment with documents to the official phytosanitary testing authority in the country of the providing genebank (phytosanitary testing and certification must be undertaken by an approved body to ensure independent testing and certification, the phytosanitary authority is often separate from the genebank).
  • Obtain the required phytosanitary certificate.

Preparing the information list to accompany the plant materials

Basic information

  • Passport data.
  • Accession identification.
  • Source.

Biological status

  • Follow the information as specified in the Bioversity International, IRRI and WARDA Rice Descriptors.
  • All data must be provided electronically, either in an attachment to an email or on a web page (electronic transmission of data is essential for error-free incorporation of data into the recipient’s database).

Characterization data used to verify accessions

  • Provide both the data and the key to the data.
  • If available and appropriate, follow the key descriptors specified in the Bioversity International, IRRI and WARDA Rice Descriptors.
  • Also provide data on any other distinguishing characteristics of the accessions even if not included in the key Bioversity International, IRRI and WARDA Rice Descriptors.

Cover letter

  • Specify shipping arrangements.
  • List accompanying documents and their location.
  • Ask the recipient to acknowledge receipt.
  • Send to the requestor electronically in advance, as well as accompanying the shipment.

Accompanying documents

Prepare and/or obtain the following documents as needed:


  • Prepare the MTA as agreed with the requestor (as indicated above, preferably the SMTA if possible and appropriate). Preferably send electronic copy, as well as paper, copy with shipment.
  • Ensure that the MTA is duly accepted by authorized representatives of both provider and recipient.
  • If a signature is necessary, ensure that both sides sign before the shipment is sent.

Import permit

  • Obtain an import permit from the requestor if required by the requestor’s country.

Customs declaration

  • Declaration to conform to requirements of the requestor’s country, as a label, a form, or some other declaration depending on the destination country.

Phytosanitary certificate

  • Obtain a phytosanitary certificate from the relevant authorities in the genebank’s country, in compliance with the requirements of the requestor’s country.

Export permit

  • If required by the laws of the genebank’s host country, obtain an export permit from the relevant authorities.

GMO declaration

  • If the importing requestor or the requestor’s country requires it, prepare a statement declaring what measures have been taken to keep the germplasm free of transgenes. An example of a GM-free declaration from IRRI is given below:
    • "We hereby certify that the rice seeds in this package were produced solely by conventional methods, without the applicaton of genetic modification technologies, and in isolation from any known source of potential contamination by genetically modified rice. To the best of our knowledge they are GM-free".

Type of information

  • For shipments with SMTA, in addition to passport data, provide all available characterization and evaluation data in the genebank’s database (shipments with SMTA must be accompanied by 'any other associated available non-confidential descriptive information').
  • If the requestor asks for other information that is not already made available as standard, take reasonable measures to obtain and supply the information from elsewhere.

Dispatching the plant material


  • Submit the completed consignment and associated documents to the organization’s gatekeeper for verification. The gatekeeper will:
    • Check that the germplasm list corresponds to the germplasm samples.
    • Check that the MTA is appropriate for the germplasm been transferred and purpose of transfer.
    • Check that associated documents are complete, correct and complying with the requirements of the exporting and importing countries.


  • Aluminum foil bags tightly packed in cartons.

Reply form

  • Send one reply form (to facilitate feedback).

Sending the plant material

  • Normally send by airfreight.
  • When the consignment has left the genebank institute, notify the requestor, recipient and consignee.
  • If the shipper provides a reference number for tracking the shipment, send it to the requestor, recipient and consignee for their information.

Recording shipping details

Record the following information:

  • Institute’s reference ID for the consignment.
  • Shipper’s tracking ID.
  • Date dispatched.
  • Mode of shipment.
  • Sender and institution.
  • Consignee.
  • Import Permit ID.
  • Weight of consignment.
  • MTA ID.
  • Phytosanitary certification ID.
  • Receipt ID.
  • Acknowledgement receipt.
  • Declared seed condition on receipt.

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Recording information

  • Reference number.
  • Crop name.
  • Consignee’s name and designation.
  • Name and address of organization.
  • User information (type of organization requesting materials).
  • Date of request.
  • Date of supply.
  • Number and quantity of samples provided.
  • Phytosanitary certificate.
  • Export permit number.
  • Purpose.
  • Remarks.
  • Others.

System for tracking material/inventory system for distribution

  • Distribution should be one of the modules of the genebank documentation system.

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References and further reading

Agreement sample form. Available from: Date accessed: 15 June 2010.

Bioversity International, IRRI and WARDA. 2007. Descriptors for wild and cultivated Rice (Oryza spp.). Bioversity International, Rome, Italy; International Rice Research Institute, Los Banos, Philippines; WARDA, Africa Rice Center, Cotonou, Benin. Available here.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research [homepage of the CGIAR] [online] Available from: Date accessed: 4 February 2010.

Annex I List of crops covered under the multilateral system [online]. Available from: Date accessed: 15 July 2013.

Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) [online]. Available from: Date accessed: 15 July 2013.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture [homepage of the ITPGRFA] [online]. Available from: Date accessed: 10 July 2013.

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