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From Seed to Table: IAEA and OPEC Fund Support Establishment of Seed Bank in Arab Region


IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation Hua Liu addresses participants at the COP28 OPEC Fund pavilion. (Photo: OPEC Fund)

At a jointly organized side event on the margins of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), the IAEA and OPEC Fund discussed the establishment of a seed gene bank in the Arab Region as part of the recently signed Practical Arrangements. The seed bank would make a wide variety of seeds available to farmers in the region, with the aim of helping to preserve biodiversity and strengthen food security in the face of increasingly harsh climatic conditions. 

Side event participants heard about the crucial role played by plant mutation breeding in climate-smart agriculture. This process, which involves irradiating seeds or plant tissues to induce genetic diversity to breed new, improved crop varieties, has been a key area of IAEA research and development for six decades.  

In addition to the storage and provision of improved seed varieties, the seed gene bank would support research and development to discover new crop varieties for the Arab region that are better suited to climate-change induced environmental conditions, such as increased temperatures, salinity, drought and soil erosion. Seeds that are drought tolerant or resistant to pests can produce higher crop yields and enhance food security. 

“The proposal to establish a seed gene bank in the Arab States of Asia is exceptional in that it addresses both climate adaptation and food security. It builds on a baseline of many success stories in the region achieved through IAEA—ARASIA technical cooperation over the past 20 years,” said IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation Hua Liu. 

The IAEA Cooperative Agreement for Arab States in Asia for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (ARASIA) brings together 10 IAEA Member States to work together to tackle key regional challenges using nuclear techniques. 

“One essential and core motivation for the seed bank is the limited presence of an advanced seed bank in the region and the limited cooperation in the exchange of seeds between countries,” said Bilal Nsouli, ARASIA Chair and Director of the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission. 

Through the framework of ARASIA, the regional seed bank will enable countries to join forces to share their agricultural successes. Many food crops, particularly grains, are currently imported to the Arab region, and the seed bank would be a first step in the direction of ensuring regional self-sufficiency in agriculture through South-South cooperation. 

“Seeds are the guardians of our food security,” said Adebayo Babalola, Director of the OPEC Fund Strategic Planning Unit, at the dedicated COP28 side event. “The regional seed bank embodies a shared responsibility for our crops and ensure that no community is left behind in the face of environmental uncertainties,” he continued. 

The IAEA and OPEC Fund were joined at the side event by country and industry representatives, including representatives from the Emirates Food Security Council, and the Crop Trust. The Crop Trust is a non-profit organization that helps to support the development of seed banks worldwide. 

Crop Trust representative Stefan Schmitz described the utility of seed banks at the COP28 side event: “Seed banks are the right nucleus for agricultural development – they are a ‘one stop shop’ for breeders and researchers and can provide the basis for that kind of research to make our food systems better adapted to climate change, more productive and more sustainable.” 

The IAEA has a long history of supporting its Member States in the area of food and agriculture, including through its longstanding practical partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Nuclear techniques offer a comparative advantage in many phases of the spectrum from seed to table, including in plant mutation breeding, in soil and water management, as well as in ensuring food safety. Through plant breeding, scientists can produce new crop varieties that have more favourable traits, such as drought and heat tolerance, among others, to help increase crop yields and reduce food insecurity.  

Panellists at the OPEC Fund pavilion discussed topics related to plant breeding, food security and IAEA support to its Member States (Photo: OPEC Fund).

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