Explore GeRRI- Home to Kenya’s Plant and Seed Diversity

Dr. Peterson Wambugu examines some seeds within GeRRI’s genebank (Kennedy Gachohi, Standard)

Driving along the Limuru-Nairobi Expressway leaves the impression of a growing real estate sector, perhaps at the expense of farmland.

In Muguja, you will lead through a forest so dense that one could be forgiven for thinking there is no human activity.

However, hidden in this forest is one of the country’s jewels, the wealth in seeds and thus the circles of food security and environmental conservation.

Welcome to the Public Resource Research Institute (GeRRI) where thousands of entries are securely preserved, not only for immediate use today and for use in research but also to ensure biodiversity is preserved for future generations. GeRRI is one of the semi-autonomous institutes of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).

At a time when the world is gradually losing biodiversity, especially in the wake of climate change, GeRRI hosts some 52,000 accessions, some of which were collected in the 1950s. On this day, Dr. Peterson Wambugu, the lead research scientist, sits in his office, analyzing some seeds he received for safekeeping. He says he needs to know who they are and other details.

Often known as the National Gene Bank, GeRRI receives seeds mostly via private collections from the wild, markets, farmers and breeders.

“After the seeds are received, they are registered and assigned a unique identification number,” explains Dr. Wambugu, adding “details such as where the seeds were obtained, the name of the species, who collected them, and their characteristics such as whether they are present or not.” Feed, medicines…and other details are also recorded.

Over the past four years, the genebank has received significant technical and financial support from the Crop Trust through funding from the German government via the German Development Bank (KfW) to upgrade its conservation capacity. This support includes improving its information management systems. Initially, records will be stored manually. However, in the wake of digital transformation, GeRRI received IT equipment from Crop Trust that revolutionized its operations. The Crop Trust is an international non-profit organization that works to promote the conservation and availability of the world’s crop genetic diversity to enhance food security.

The seeds are dried to a moisture content of 3-7 percent. The seeds are then tested for viability, which is simply the germination rate, and must be 85 percent or higher. If it falls below the 85% threshold, the material is taken up for renewal by planting it and harvesting the seeds again. It is then packed in special aluminum containers that do not allow moisture to absorb.

Inside the cold room (Kennedy Gachohi, Standard)

The inputs are then stored in cold rooms. The temperature of one of the cold rooms is maintained at 5°C for rooms designated for daily redistribution collection. The other is kept at a temperature below 20 degrees Celsius and is intended for seeds that are stored for a long time. Through these cold room storage facilities, where seeds can last for hundreds of years, the gene bank provides much-needed insurance against unexpected disasters. Viability tests are performed periodically during storage to ensure they remain alive and viable.

Among the GeRRI collections is a duplicate collection of more than 6,000 sorghum accessions and 2,000 finger millet accessions, collected from across Africa.

Currently, sorghum and millet accessions are the most in demand for seed, with many farmers and breeders identifying them as resilient to climate change, requiring low capital and having high nutritional value.

“We are actively involved in taking mitigation measures against climate change and its impacts by providing agricultural relevant materials to those who are looking for them here,” says Dr. Desterio Nyamungu – Director of the Institute, GeRRI.

In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for example, GeRRI is working to reclaim degraded land in eastern Kenya by planting legumes and grasses.

Dr. Nyamungu called for active engagement among breeders, farmers and other stakeholders in environmental conservation, saying this not only benefits current generations, but also benefits future generations. “The main challenge facing the GeRRI initiative is to sift through the huge diversity of priority crops in partnership with farmers from different regions so that they can expose them to potential ecotypes that they can directly use to mitigate the effects of climate change,” emphasizes Dr. Nyamungu. GeRRI lacks the resources to conduct the screening process and support in this area would be appreciated.

He also described as “unfortunate” thoughts about the loss of biodiversity when there is so much that can be done to preserve it.

Dr. Nyamungu displays some of the seeds on display at the GeRRI reception (Kennedy Gachohi, Standard)

Nakuru District – The Seed Saving Network (SSN) is among the frequent visitors and users of GeRRI. A grassroots organization working with over 66,000 farmers, SSN often takes farmers on educational visits at GeRRI.

“We also order and obtain seeds for regeneration and work with farmers to multiply them,” says Daniel Wanjama, SSN Manager.

In addition, GeRRI and SSN conduct joint trainings on issues such as policy, seed regeneration and creating awareness about local seeds such as sorghum and millet.

In Busia, GeRRI has partnered with SSN in conducting joint research on local methods of seed preservation.

    (Tags for translation) Seed diversity 

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