ARC National Small Grain Collection – Seeding A Secure Future

Grains matter. They’re a food staple in almost every culture on Earth, responsible for almost half the calories we consume (directly and indirectly) for thousands of years. So it’s important to study, preserve and improve our grain strains, and make sure we get the most of them – especially in a world that’s increasingly impacted by the effects of climate change. That’s just part of the amazing work done by the National Small Grain Germplasm Bank. 

​​The National Small Grain Collection is housed in a state-of-the art, dedicated storage facility at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Bethlehem Campus. It is the largest collection of small grain germplasm on the African continent, and plays a vital role in the conservation and study of small grain genetic resources for improved future use.

“To meet the challenges of increased demand for food from the world’s burgeoning population it is essential to preserve the diverse gene pool found within old landraces, obsolete cultivars, older and modern breeding lines as well as wild relatives of crops,” says Dr Eben Von Well, who leads the biobanking team. “It’s also important to conduct research into disease resistance and other matters – and to share research and resources with others.”

Annually, through collaboration with various international partners such as CIMMYT (Mexico and Turkey) and ICARDA, nurseries containing promising lines are imported and evaluated for their characteristics under South African conditions. In addition, a part of the collection is rejuvenated each year to ensure viability of the seed and approximately 1000 accessions are evaluated by pre-breeders, entomologists and pathologists to build the body of knowledge regarding the traits of each entry in the collection. 

The biobanking team, led by Dr Eben von Well and including Moferere Mofokeng, Moses Ncala and Petrus Mabuya, is responsible for over 20 000 accessions, from barley to rice to wheat and more.

Their work addresses many aspects of wheat research, from agronomical constraints throughout the globe, how the world should address food security, various abiotic and biotic stresses of wheat to wheat genetics and the use of modern molecular mechanisms to improve wheat production. 


Here’s how they do what they do…


The Small Grain Germplasm biobank is one of several Agricultural Research Council (ARC) biobanks that form part of the core biobank system of the  Biodiversity Biobanks South Africa (BBSA), containing plant, animal and microbial-based assets scattered across 11 campuses in all 9 provinces of South Africa – and providing important infrastructural support for food security across the country.


Want to know more about the National Small Grain Germplasm Biobank, and the other ARC biobanks? Just watch this. And while you’re at it, why not learn more about what biobanks are (and aren’t) all about?

What are biodiversity biobanks?

Biodiversity biobanks are repositories of biologically relevant resources, including reproductive tissues such as seeds, eggs and sperm, other tissues including blood, DNA extracts, microbial cultures (active and dormant), and environmental samples containing biological communities….