Pre-breeders go wild in Rabat


Breeders recently converged on Morocco to share their experiences in doing something that although increasingly popular is still somewhat unusual for them — working with crop wild relatives (CWR). More than 80 participants from 30 countries attended the First International Experts Workshop on Pre-breeding Utilizing Crop Wild Relatives held in Rabat, Morocco from 24-26 April 2019.

“We recognized that we now have quite a number of scientists around the world who are working with crop wild relatives in order to inject beneficial genetic diversity in our crop genepools,” said Ahmed Amri, the workshop organizer and retiring head of Genetic Resources Section of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). “We wanted to bring them together in an expert workshop so we could all share our work and create a stronger network of pre-breeders.”

The workshop was organized by ICARDA and received support from the Crop Wild Relatives Project, the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) of Morocco and the European Union. It brought together genebank managers, pre-breeding and breeding experts along with other scientists involved in plant genetic resources. “We initially thought of a small gathering of experts in a workshop format,” said Ahmed. “But we soon realized that there is a surprising amount of interest in pre-breeding, and our little workshop grew into a full three-day conference.”

The conference included 30 presentations by some of the world’s leading pre-breeding experts, including eight scientists who, under the CWR Project, are leading efforts to adapt food crops to climate change. Sessions included presentations on collecting and conserving CWR, approaches to exploring the value of CWR, pre-breeding efforts on pigeonpea, cowpea, barley, wheat, oat, lentil, chickpea among others, and the impact of pre-breeding in farmer’s fields.

“Climate change is already making a serious impact on our agricultural systems,” said Daniel van Gilst of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, who welcomed participants of the workshop on behalf of the donor agency. NORAD has shown its commitment to ensuring food security by, among other things, funding the ten-year CWR Project. “Introducing a new crop variety can take 15-20 years and if agriculture is going to be able to adapt, it is urgent that the existing genetic diversity is not only conserved, but that we actively use it in our breeding programs. And do so now.”

The speakers at the workshop confirmed that not only has significant progress been made in many countries in conserving crop wild relatives but some of this “left behind” diversity is being re-captured, and used to improve and expand elite genepools.

On the third day of the workshop, participants visited ICARDA’s field trials at INRA’s Marchouch station. ICARDA is a key collaborator in the CWR Project, under which it leads pre-breeding project on four crops. “The field trip was a great opportunity to see first-hand how far we have progressed with our pre-breeding efforts,” said Benjamin Kilian, the coordinator of pre-breeding projects with the CWR Project. “The workshop participants were really excited to see CWR-derived materials for grasspea, barley, lentil and durum wheat in the field.”

Throughout the workshop presenters kept their sights on attaining the end result: farmers benefitting from CWR-derived material in their fields. “It was exciting to see our partners at ICARDA helping strengthen national breeding programs as well as working directly with farmers,” said CWR Advisory Group member Geoff Hawtin, who chaired the session entitled From pre-breeding to impact in farmer’s fields.

“At the end of the day, the farmers and their families are what matter most in our pre-breeding work, since they will decide what best meets their needs and ultimately what grows in their fields.”

Given the success of the workshop, it is likely that another will follow. “The ‘first’ in the title suggests that it will be followed by a ‘second’,” said ICARDA’s Michael Baum in his closing remarks. “Given the interest displayed during these days, and given the importance of the topic and the long-term commitments required for pre-breeding, I am confident we will all soon come together again.”

Closing the workshop, the Crop Trust’s Hannes Dempewolf summed up the feeling in the packed room. “We’re heading full speed toward a cliff named climate change. But after this meeting I’m more hopeful than ever that crop wild relatives will give us wings to fly.”



To register your interest in attending a second workshop please send an e-mail to

View full program and abstract book of the workshop here.

View photos at

The project ‘Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Collecting, Protecting and Preparing Crop Wild Relatives’, is funded by the Norwegian Government, and coordinated by the Crop Trust with the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew. (  

All material collected under the Crop Wild Relatives project is shared under the terms of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) within the framework of the multi-lateral system of the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Pre-breeding data generated by this project will be publicly available, most on Germinate 3, an open source database which provides a standard and common interface to genetic resources collections.

Preparing your export
Your export is ready!