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Under Siege: The Race to Save Sudan's Crucial Gene Bank Amid Devastating Civil War

Sudan's Gene Bank of Plant Genetic Resources, located in Wad-Madani in Gezira State and housing over 15,000 accessions of diverse plant genetic resources for food and agriculture , faces an existential threat in the wake of a devastating civil war that erupted in April 2023,  Sudan is within a region of crop diversity for pivotal crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, sesame, cowpea, and melons.

Therefore, the genebank facility serves Sudan and the global agricultural system, holding invaluable crop varieties essential for developing resilience against climate change, pests, and diseases. However, the escalating armed conflicts have now reached Wad-Madani in December 2023, jeopardizing this vital repository of biodiversity's future.

Without urgent action from the international community, irreparable damage awaits this cornerstone of food security.

As of April 2023, Sudan's political instability has taken a turn for the worse. The ongoing civil war has intensified over control of land and power, with conflicts now engulfing Wad-Madani in Gezira State, where the Gene Bank is located. Grave concerns loom over the safety and security of the Gene Bank facilities and staff amidst reports of continued ground warfare, aerial bombings, and widespread violence in the region, severely hampering access. This escalation poses an unprecedented existential threat to the facility's future and seed collections, which form the core of Sudan's priceless agricultural heritage. The Gene Bank's seed vaults, crucial for preserving the integrity of these diverse genetic resources, require a constant electricity supply for refrigeration. However, the warfare has led to frequent, long-term city-wide electricity cuts, and the safety- matter restricted access to information or evaluation of the current situation of the gene bank.

Without power for cold storage or accessibility for experts to maintain seed viability, there are alarming fears that unique varieties and even entire accessions could be permanently lost amid the conflict.

This crisis necessitates immediate global action to safeguard Sudan's agrobiodiversity richness and prevent irreversible damage to this pivotal facility. As long-term collaborators and stakeholders, Sida and NordGen are implored to urgently facilitate efforts to relocate the Gene Bank's collections of genetic resources to a more secure place in the country. Arrangements to have a complete copy of the Sudanese germplasm into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic as the most viable preservation option for safety duplication. While Svalbard prioritizes depositing seeds from unstable regions, the emergency in Sudan undoubtedly warrants immediate assistance. Emergency funding from diverse public-private entities will also be crucial to handle the substantial logistical and technological demands of relocation and long-term preservation.

Raising international political and public awareness is paramount to galvanize broader financial and scientific support. Global actors like CGIAR, Sida, FAO the Crop Trust, and regional bodies like the African Union must rally behind efforts to rescue Sudan's priceless seed heritage that is now at risk of being demolished by conflict and chaos.

The rapidly worsening crisis engulfing the Wad-Madani Gene Bank in Sudan threatens permanent damage to invaluable seed accessions vital for national and global food security. Given Sudan's status as the center of origin for several staple crops, losing its genetic diversity would blow national agricultural resilience and the global food system. As conflicts show no sign of abating, emergency rescue efforts to safely transport and relocation of the genetic resources duplicate of the collections to secure seed vaults are a race against time. Safeguarding and regenerating Sudan's threatened agrobiodiversity must unite global actors in solidarity at this pivotal juncture in the nation's history.

Mohammed Elsafy

 Malmö- Sweden




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