The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Costing the Conservation of Genetic Resources: CIMMYT’s Ex Situ Maize and Wheat Collection


Philip G. Pardey, Bonwoo Koo, Brian D. Wright, M. Eric Van Dusen, Bent Skovmand, and Suketoshi Taba




Worldwide, the number of genebanks and the amount of seed stored in them has increased substantially over the past few decades. While the estimation of the marginal benefits of conserving each type of genebank accession attracts most attention on the management of genebanks, quantifying the benefits of conservation is particularly difficult. One reason is that attributing an appropriate part of the agronomic improvement in a plant to the use of conserved germplasm is a daunting, if not intractable, inferential challenge. Other problems with time-series data and estimation methods for non-market benefit make any estimation imprecise. The cost side, on the other hand, predominantly involves items that are estimable from historical data of existing genebank and related operations. If the total and marginal costs of the genebank operations are judged to be less than any reasonable lower bound estimate of the corresponding benefits, then it may not be necessary to confront the challenge of estimating the latter more precisely to justify the existence and size of the genebank.


In this study we compile and use a set of cost data for wheat and maize stored in the CIMMYT genebank to address a number of questions regarding the costs of conservation. Conserving seeds, like R&D more generally, is much more a labor or human-capital intensive undertaking. On an annualized basis, physical capital represents 22 percent of the costs of conservation, labor about 60 percent, with operational costs making up the remaining 18 percent. The marginal costs of holding on to an existing accession for one more year are estimated, along with the costs of conserving saved seed for the life of the genebank and in perpetuity. We also assess the size and scale economies evident in the CIMMYT operation as a basis for assessing the economics of consolidating genebanks more generally. The data shows that it costs just 27 cents and $2.05 to roll over an existing (viable) accession of wheat and maize, respectively, for one more year. Under baseline assumptions about interest rates, capital depreciation profiles, and regeneration protocols, the present value of conserving the existing accessions in perpetuity at CIMMYT is $7.95 millionž $4.42 million for storing the 17,000 maize accessions and $3.53 million for the 123,000 wheat samples.


The cost structure of conserving germplasm critically depends on (i) the type of crop, (ii) the capacity of the genebank facility, (iii) the condition of the initial samples, and, relatedly, the regeneration protocols that are used, and (iv) climate and infrastructure of the genebank location. Follow-up studies for different crops at different genebank facilities can provide adequate guidance for future investment priorities in ex-situ germplasm facilities. We are working on a comparative study of the costs of genebank operations of IRRI and ICARDA. Rice in IRRI is one of the most important crops to the CG system, and the genebank capacity and tropical location of IRRI will provide significant cost contrasts to the CIMMYT study already completed. In addition, ICARDA will allow us to compare the cost structure of the same crop (wheat) in different locations (i.e., El Batan and Aleppo), and thereby identify the sensitivity of the costing exercises to locational effects. ICARDA also provides us the opportunity to analyze the cost structure of conserving forage grasses and legumes, which may have an altogether different structure than small grain cereals. The study on ICARDA genebank is now under way and the IRRI study is on the agenda. Having completed costing exercises for these two CG centers in combination the with CIMMYT study also gives us quite a broad geographical coveragežspecifically Latin America, Asia, and West Asia and North Africa. Comparative costing information compiled for a range of crops and genebank facilities from three centers should make more plausible extrapolations of cost structure feasible for some of the other CG genebanks.



† P.G. Pardey, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2033 K Street N.W. Washington D.C. 20006-1002; B. Koo and B. D. Wright, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Giannini Hall 207, Berkeley, CA 94720-3310; E. Van Dusen, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, 95616-8512; B. Skovmand and S. Taba, Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo (CIMMYT), Apdo 6-641, 06600 Mexico, DF, Mexico. Corresponding author (



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