The PGR program was initiated in 1998 as the Agrobiodiversity Conservation (ABC) program for the conservation and sustainable use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) in the country considering the decline of traditional crop diversity in the country due to many complex factors namely urbanization, displacement of crop varieties, change in cropping system, etc. The on-farm conservation of PGRFA was initiated in 2001 with BUCAP project supported by Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) followed by the Integrated Livestock and Crop Conservation Program (ILCCP) project in 2007 with funding support from UNDP-GEF. These projects focused on the promotion of traditional PGRFA through crop improvement, Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS), product development, value addition and marketing and establishment of Community Seed Banks (CSBs).
The ex situ conservation of PGRFA was initiated after the establishment of the National Plant Genebank through funding support from the Royal Government of Netherlands under the Framework of Sustainable Development Agreement in 2005 with international standard protocols which was further validated through technical assistance from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2013.The safety duplicate facility at ARDC Wengkhar was established in 2015 with funding support from European Union Sector Support Project (EUSSP) to mitigate the risk of loss of genebank collections to natural or man-made catastrophes in the Genebank. Further in 2016, the Genebank was upgraded with the establishment of In vitro and Cryo-preservation facilities with financial support from EU-GCCA for the conservation of horticultural crops and those crops that are propagated vegetatively.
Similarly, a project on diversification and crop improvement of rice was implemented under the framework of International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) benefit-sharing fund from 2013 to 2014 and the HANAS project funded by BTFEC (2014-2017) supported on-farm conservation of finger millet through product development and value addition. In addition, the Genetic Resources Policy Initiative (GRPI II) project supported policy, awareness, capacity building and research work on the implementation of the ITPGRFA and the Multilateral System (MLS) from
2013 to 2015. Subsequently the National Plant Genebank also implemented the Integrated Management of Plant Genetic Resources project (IMPGR) (2016- 2017) supported by AFACI, focusing on phenotypic characterization of rice and capacity building of genebank staff.
- Assess, document and status reporting of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
- Coordinate and implement on-farm conservation and sustainable use programs of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
- Serve as the national repository for PGRFA germplasm.
- Develop policies and strategies for effective conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA.
- Develop protocols linking in situ and ex situ PGRFA conservation programs.
- Coordinate and implement targeted interventions for prioritized PGRFA.
- Conduct research and studies on PGRFA diversity to generate required information.
- Provide germplasm and associated information for breeding and utilization.
- Promote public awareness on the importance of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture for food and nutrition security.
- Promote regional and international linkages for technology transfer and effective conservation and management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
Currently, the National Plant Genebank houses over 3207 accessions of crop genetic resources comprising cereals, legumes, oilseeds, some vegetables and a few forages, collected from all agro-ecological zones and the safety back-up facility in ARDC Wengkhar houses over 2500 accessions of duplicate samples. Ex situ activities under the program include gap filling of germplasm collection, characterization of accessions and initiating conservation through in vitro and cryopreservation methods. Further the PGR program has initiated in vitro and Cryopreservation work on some recalcitrant crops (potato, garlic, and banana). An inventory on agrobiodiversity in the country initiated in the 11th FYP is due to be completed by the end of the 11th FYP.
On-farm conservation initiatives have established a total of 37 on-farm conservation sites across the country promoting conservation and use of traditional crop varieties through PVS, crop improvement, rehabilitation, value addition and capacity building of farming communities.
Two drought tolerant rice varieties, Zangthi and Bhur Kamja were promoted in the on-farm conservation sites in the 11th FYP. The first Community Seed Banks (CSBs) were established in Gomdhar and Phuntshothang in 2007 followed by Bhur and Bumthang in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Two more CSBs were recently established in Dewathang through the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative (SJI) and in Buli by the community. Till date the implementation of PGRFA conservations activities also produced a number of publications which are Plant Genetic Resources: Bhutanese Perspective (2000), Plant Genetic Resources of Bhutan, Volume I: Field Crops (2008), Biodiversity Use and Conservation in Asia Program (BUCAP) 2002- 2010 (2011), History of important food crops in Bhutan (2015), Harvests: Farmer’s success stories (2016) and the National Cereals Conservation Strategic Action Plan (2016).