Crop Genebank Knowledge Base

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Distribution of forage legume genetic resources

Contributors to this page: ILRI, Ethiopia (Jean Hanson); ICARDA, Syria (Ahmed Amri, Kenneth Street, Ali Shehadeh, Natalya Rukhkyan); GRCTPL, Australia (Richard Snowball); Bioversity International/ILRI, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Alexandra Jorge).

Policies and regulations

Policies and regulations for distribution

Common policies on distribution and access to plant material

  • Follow the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) for in-trust germplasm using the SMTA (SMTA: ITPGRFA, SGRP) and Plant Breeders' Rights (click for more information from Australia, Canada and the UK) for varieties (CGIAR centres have signed an agreement with the ITPGRFA).

Policy exceptions

  • Repatriation of germplasm is done whenever material is available (material should always be repatriated as a special case).

National laws and regulations

It is essential to follow the terms and conditions in the host country agreements:

  • Export permits.
  • Phytosanitary certificate.
  • Certificate of origin.

International laws and regulations

  • The seed shipment should be sent with the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA: ITPGRFA, SGRP) even for non Annex I species using appropriate footnotes (CGIAR Centres have signed an agreement with the ITPGRFA which covers use of the SMTA).

Phytosanitary regulations

  • Phytosanitary certificates are needed for most countries.
  • See the STOGs section in this website for seed health movement (this is essential to avoid the spread of pests and diseases).



User related issues for distribution

Feedback to users

Describes factors that can influence the delivery of the plant material:

  • Respond to requests with lists of material, forms and conditions of access, SMTA (ITPGRFA, SGRP) as soon as possible after receipt of the request (users may not know about the conditions so it is better to inform them before proceeding with the request).
  • Provide passport and germination data with requests.

Describes recommended procedures that ensure the material distributed matches the client request:

  • On specific requests, match accession numbers with specified request.
  • If accession numbers are not specified, match accessions to users' needs. These could include:
    • Species.
    • Plant habit to fit the crop system.
    • Environment.
    • Use (grazing, cut and carry, soil stabilization).

Feedback from users

Describes the most relevant information required to be received from users:

  • Information on characterization and evaluation/use (information on performance in one area allows better selection of germplasm for similar areas).

Quantity of material recommended to be distributed

  • It must be sufficient to cover the diversity in the accession and produce material for future use (users should have access to the full diversity within the accession and sufficient seeds to multiply to obtain a genetically similar sample for future use. The provision of small quantities maintains the stocks and reduces the regeneration frequency).
  • Cultivated species: 100 seeds.
  • Wild species: 50 seeds.


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Procedures for distribution

Checking availability

Availability in stock

  • Check availability of seeds in stock and verify their availability.
  • Distribution of the requested seeds should not cause the accession to fall below the minimum stock.
  • Accessions with low amounts of seeds in stock should not be distributed.

Checking passport data

  • Passport data can be checked to ensure the species is adapted to the requestor’s needs (this avoids waste of seeds by sending material that the requestor does not need or want).

Preparing accessions for distribution

Registering the request

  • Give consecutive numbers in order to track requests (this allows requests to be handled on a first come first served basis).

Preparing lists of accessions available

  • Generate lists of accessions that meet users' needs.

Checking requirements for Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs)

  • All Annex I and non-Annex I in-trust material must be sent with the SMTA (ITPGRFA, SGRP). 
  • Otherwise use an appropriate MTA.

Generating labels for accessions

  • Print labels with the most important information: accession number, taxonomic identification, origin.
  • Use the database and print labels to avoid errors.

Labelling the accession containers

  • Use labels with good adhesive and clear printing (this avoids errors and mixing during shipping).

Removing containers from the genebank and acclimatization procedures required

  • Allow all seeds to warm to room temperature before opening containers and seal seeds again as quickly as possible. 
  • Packets should be sealed as quickly as possible to avoid uptake of moisture (condensation will form on cold seeds and cause changes in moisture content). 

Assuring accuracy in identification

  • Staff should double check all labels and seeds against lists for accuracy and to avoid errors.
  • The use of barcoding technology reduces errors.

Check packets against lists to avoid errors (photo: ILRI)

Extracting samples from the original containers

  • Use a clean spatula, take care not to mix samples and do not leave containers open for long periods (cleanliness and care are needed to avoid errors through mixing).
  • Packets should be sealed and containers closed as quickly as possible to avoid uptake of moisture.

Preparing the information list to accompany the plant material

The following basic information is important for the user

  • Passport data:
    • Accession number.
    • Accession identification.
    • Crop name.
    • Taxonomic identification.
    • Country of origin.
    • Biological status.
    • Collecting location.
    • Source.
  • Germination data showing viability and testing method.
  • Characterization data used to verify accessions should be provided upon request.

Cover letter:

  • Remind users of the terms and conditions of access and request feedback (it is important to make contact with the user for future feedback).

Dispatching the plant material


  • Pack the seeds in paper envelopes or laminated aluminium foil envelopes or nylon bags (plastic bags are suitable for short periods to avoid packets bursting and mixing seeds or getting wet during transit).
  • Then pack seeds and attached documents e.g. the seed list, SMTA, phytosanitary certificate, import permit, GMO-free certificate in a plastic bag and then in a strong envelope or a cardboard box.
  • Attach a copy of the phytosanitary certificate, import permit and list of materials to the outside of the box if material is being dispatched to another country.
  • A copy of the SMTA must be attached to the outside of the envelope or box. Use of the material constitutes agreement with the terms of the SMTA.
  • Label the envelope/box with the complete mailing address of the requester.

Packing seeds for distribution (photo: ILRI)

Reply form

  • Include a reply form in the shipment (a reply form should be returned by the requester to acknowledge that the seeds have been received and in good condition).

Sending the plant material

  • Use courier or other rapid means of transit (the method of transport should avoid heating and delays in transport).

Recording shipping details

  • Record date and method of shipping (shipping details are important for tracking during shipping).

Updating the genebank inventory

  • Deduct the weight of the seeds sent from the remaining stock (needed to update stock control).

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Recording information

The following information must be recorded for each consignment:

  • Reference number.
  • Crop name.
  • Consignee’s name and designation.
  • Name and address of organization.
  • User information (type of organization requesting material).
  • Date of request.
  • Date of supply.
  • Accession number and quantity of samples provided.
  • Phytosanitary certificate.
  • Export permit number.
  • Reference number of SMTA.
  • Classification of intended germplasm use.

System for tracking material/inventory system for distribution

  • Update related data tables in the database management system (a database system allows easy and fast access to data and allows macros to be written for routine operations).
  • Use labels with good adhesive and clear printing (this avoids errors and mixing during shipping).

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References and further reading

Agreement sample form. Download document.

Frison EA, Bos L, Hamilton RI, Mathur SB, Taylor JD, editors. 1990. FAO/IBPGR Technical Guidelines for the Safe Movement of Legume Germplasm. Available here.

List of crops covered under the multilateral system Annex I.

Standard Material Transfer Agreement (ITPGRFA, SGRP)

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture [homepage of theITPGRFA] [online]. Available from:

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International Agricultural Research Centres who worked together to make this site possible:
Africa Rice Center | Bioversity International | CIAT | CIMMYT | CIP | ICARDA | ICRISAT | IFPRI | IITA | ILRI | IRRI |