Crop Genebank Knowledge Base

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Crops Maize Conservation Distribution

Distribution of maize genetic resources

Contributors to this page: CIMMYT, Mexico (Suketoshi Taba, Bonnie J. Furman), with inputs also received from IITA, Nigeria (Dominique Dumet), EMBRAPA (maize and sorghum genebank), Brazil (Flavia Teixeira), USDA (ARS/NC7, ISU), USA (Mark Millard).

Policies and regulations

Common policies on distribution and access to plant materials

Once it is declared disease-free, CIMMYT seed can be carefully packed and sent to hundreds of partners worldwide (photo: CIMMYT)

The IPR (intellectual property rights) documentation for germplasm exchange should apply.

  • Seed samples can usually be requested free of charge, in most maize genebanks in the world.
  • Shipment costs may be charged in some cases.
  • The use of a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is standard (a survey carried out in 2006 showed that only a few genebanks did not use it) in most genebanks.
  • The Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) should be used in the countries and CGIAR genebanks (CIMMYT and IITA maize banks) that ratified the  International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) (maize is an Annex 1 crop of The Treaty).

Policy exceptions

  • None.

National laws and regulations

It is essential to follow the terms and conditions in the host country agreements.

  • CGIAR Centers use SMTA under the agreement with FAO.
  • Phytosanitary certificate.
  • Letter of donation (with 'no commercial value' stated).
  • Certificate of origin.
  • GMO-free certificate, when required.
  • Import Permit.

International laws and regulations

  • Any seed shipment should be sent with the SMTA under the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

Phytosanitary regulations

Phytosanitory regulations must be followed for the germplasm exchanges between the genebanks and users, and among the genebanks to assure the safe movement of the germplasm.

The following documentation is needed:

  • An international phytosanitary certificate issued by authorities in the country of origin, including a description of the fungicide seed treatments used, if any.
  • A copy of a seed importation permit granted by the host country specifically for the country of origin.
  • A certificate of origin issued with the institution letterhead paper.
  • A commercial letter of value with the institution letterhead paper.
  • Senders from USA, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia must indicate the TAX NUMBER (or Customs and Revenue Agency BIN or Business Number or Federal ID number) of the Institution in the certificate of origin and the commercial letter.
  • The sender address must appear as follows:
    • Name, Surname.
    • Institution.
    • Street or locality.
    • ZIP CODE number.
    • City, ZIP CODE Country.

CIMMYT requires senders from countries where genetically modified maize is cultivated in the open field, both for commercial and experimental purposes, to provide the following information:

  • What events are present in country or the region of origin of the seed sample?
  • Does your organization handle transgenic maize?
  • What official local or national biosafety regulations are in force in the country of origin of the seed sample?
  • What institutional, local and national biosafety standards do you follow to keep transgenic maize separate from non-transgenic maize and to prevent the unintentional presence of transgenes in the seed sample?
  • How far was the sample from the closest transgenic maize field?
  • Was the sample tested before shipping?
  • If you have tested the sample and failed to detect transgenes:
    • What procedure did you use to detect transgenes?
    • What minimum frequency of transgenes can your test procedure detect and with what confidence?
  • If you have not tested the sample, please answer the following questions:
    • Did you breed the sample yourself?
    • If you did not breed the sample:
      • When did you obtain it?
      • From where did you obtain it?
      • Did you acquire it with any statement or analysis of the presence of transgenes at the time of acquisition?
      • What do you know about the likelihood of intentional or unintentional presence of transgenic maize in the region of the provider at the time of acquisition?
  • What other potential sources of transgenic maize hybrids might there be, known or unknown, in the region where you work?
  • For samples to be added to the CIMMYT germplasm collection please indicate if you follow documented best practices for germplasm management? If so, which ones?

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User related issues for distribution

Feedback to users

Good customer service practices:

  • The curator should meet the seed requests quickly with the samples in the genebank, if they are available.
  • Seed health procedures may take time to obtain the phytosanitary certificate and can delay the seed shipments to the user.
  • It may take one to several months or even a year in the event that the requested samples are to be regenerated.
  • If the germplasm accessions are available in the genebank, the curator should inform the requester that the seed samples will be delivered to the seed health and seed shipment unit.
  • If the accessions have the seed health clearance at the time of storage (incoming seed samples), they can be delivered as soon as possible.

Customer assurance

To deliver correct seed samples to the users.

  • Genebank curators should examine the entries of the seed accessions requested if they are available.
  • Curators should be keen to match the descriptions of the germplasm accessions that are requested.

Feedback from users

Users are requested to confirm reception of the seed shipment:

  • Acknowledge receipt of the seed shipment.
  • Provide any further comments on the use of the germplasm not previously sent.

Quantity of material recommended to be distributed

Genebanks preserve a large number of accessions. Therefore, seeds must be maintained in a cost effective manner and decisions must be made as to the number of seeds to be stored and distributed). Therefore, the aim is to deliver genetic resources to as many users as possible.

  • Usually, genebanks distribute 50-100 seeds for populations and 25-50 seeds for inbred lines. These seed samples are expected to be further increased by the users.
  • In some cases, the requester may need more seeds than the standard amounts. The requester should then communicate with the curator to receive more seeds, if available.

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Procedures for distribution

Check availability

  • Check seed availability (to check if the seed shipment can be met).
  • Verify availability in stock (to make sure of the minimum amount left in the stock).
  • Check passport data (to make sure of the accessions requested by the user).

Preparing samples for distribution

Preparing samples for distribution (photo: CIMMYT)

  • Register the request (to send the right material and to update stocks).
  • Prepare a list of available accessions.
  • Check requirements for Material Transfer Agreements.
  • Generate labels.
  • Label the accession containers.
  • Check inventory files and location of containers in the genebank (to see if enough seed samples are available for the shipment).
  • Remove containers from genebank and apply the required acclimatization procedures.
  • Assure accuracy in identification.
  • Extract samples from the original containers.
  • Check the user requirement on seed treatment for shipment (for customs clearance).

Preparing the information list to accompany the plant materials

It is important to send the seed with information on origin, traits and follow-up.

  • Passport data (plant ear and kernel variations).
  • Accession identification.
  • Source.
  • Biological status.
  • Characterization data used to verify accessions.
  • Cover letter - to see if the user will agree to the SMTA or the germplasm transfer agreement of the genebank, prior to seed shipment.

Dispatch of the plant material

  • Package the seed samples to avoid possible mixture en route: paper bag or plastic bag with the accession information, often bar-coded.
  • Include a reply form for the recipient to indicate if the material has been received in good condition: use a standard format.
  • Send the plant material: either in a box or boxes depending on the number of accessions.
  • Record shipping details by the seed shipment unit (see list below).
  • Update the genebank inventory (done by the curator).
  • Send notice of the seed shipment to the user: shipment number, list of the material and copy of the shipment documents as necessary. The shipment information should be given to the user by e-mail (good communication with the genebank users is a priority).

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Recording information

Recording information during distribution

The following information must be recorded for each consignment:

  • 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.
  • Provider of the germplasm (collection curator or breeders of the different crops responsible for the seeds provided in the request)
  • Purpose.
  • Remarks.
  • Others: storage address of the seed lots, if necessary.

System for tracking material/inventory system for distribution

Important for genebank management systems and also for annual reports.

  • Organize the files (electronic and hard copy) of all documentation for the seed shipment.
  • For further impact studies, it is important to compile user groups: public institution, private institution, research or breeding purpose or others of the germplasm distributed.

References and further reading

GPG2, Activity 2.1.2: “Develop crop-specific guidelines to maintain germplasm free from transgenes” Workshop, August 15-17, 2007, CIMMYT. Available here.

GMO ERA Project [homepage of the International Project on GMO Environmental Risk Assessment Methodologies] [online]. Available from: Date accessed: 30 January 2010.

ISAAA in brief. [online].International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Taba S, van Ginkel M, Hoisington D, Poland D. 2004. Wellhausen-Anderson Plant Genetic Resources Center: Operations Manual, 2004. El Batan, Mexico:CIMMYT. Available here.

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