RBG Kew staff and training course participants stood holding seed collecting equipment and smiling in a forest
Participants on the 2017 Regional Seed Conservation Techniques training course at Cibodas Botanic Garden, Indonesia. Credit: RBG, Kew.

Encompassing five floristic regions, nine 'biodiversity hotspots' and one 'tropical forest wilderness', Asia is a treasure chest of botanical riches. This high diversity is partly due to the continent's huge variations in geography and climate, ranging from the boreal forests of northern Russia, through the grass and shrublands of Central Asia, down to the humid tropical forests of Indonesia. An important centre of diversity is the Malay Archipeligo, which includes Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor, Brunei, the Philippines and parts of Malaysia, and comprises over 25,000 islands, many of which support endemic species (those limited to a specific geographic area). The island of New Guinea is also particularly diverse and one of only three designated 'tropical forest wilderness' areas in the world.

Biodiversity hotspots are the Earth's biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregions, and are therefore top priorities for conservation. The Millennium Seed Bank is working towards developing partnerships in each of the hotspots areas, as well as the still relatively intact forest wilderness of Indonesian New Guinea. This will help local partners to protect their botanical heritage through seed conservation and research.

Current projects (Click project titles for details)

Funder: Garfield Weston Foundation

The Garfield Weston Global Tree Seed Bank Programme aims to conserve seeds of 5,000 tree and shrub species and Asia will contribute over 1,000 species towards this target. The Asia programme is operating in Pakistan, Bhutan, Thailand, Indonesia (Sumatra and Java) and Japan representing the biodiversity hotspots of Eastern Himalayas, Indo-Burma, Sundaland and Japan.

Thailand: Thailand is home to a rich plant flora, estimated to include at least 10,000 vascular plant species, of which 756 are endemic. This richness is partly due to Thailand's geographical position at the meeting point of three floristic regions - it lies directly within the Indo-chinese region, with the Malesian region to the south, and the Eastern Asiatic region to the north. However, significant habitat loss has led to Thailand and the surrounding area being designated as the 'Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot'. Covering more than 2 million square kilometres, Indo-Burma is one of the most threatened of the world's hotspots, with only 5% of its area remaining relatively undisturbed.

A table covered with trays lined with newspaper filled with seed capsules, two Bangkok Forest Herbarium staff members are stood next to the table
Staff at Bangkok Forest Herbarium, Thailand cleaning seeds of Sterculia pexa for the Garfield Weston Global Tree Seed Bank Project. Credit: RBG, Kew.
A small group of seed collectors stood in the forest holding seed collecting equipment
Seed collecting by staff from Thailand's Forest Restoration Research Unit, Chiang Mai University and the Bangkok Forest Herbarium. Credit: RBG, Kew.

The MSB signed a partnership agreement with Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation in 2015. We are now working closely with the Bangkok Forest Herbarium (BKF) and the Forest Restoration Research Unit, Chiang Mai University (FORRU-CMU), to bank seeds of 244 of Thailand's tree species by 2019, under the Global Tree Seed Bank - Thailand Project. The project started with a 5-day training course in Chiang Mai in 2015 for staff of the two GW partner organisations and the Thailand Institute of Science and Technology. The course covered all aspects of seed conservation, from planning and executing a seed collecting field trip, through to post-harvest handling, data management and long term storage.

A seed collector standing next to a Buxus sirindhornia tree A striped tarpaulin with several piles of orange seeds on being sorted by hand
Buxus sirindhornia (tree and seeds), a newly described species named after Thailand's Princess Sirindhorn, collected by staff from the Bangkok Forest Herbarium as part of the Garfield Weston Global Tree Seed Project. Credit: RBG, Kew.

Indonesia: Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands which form a transition zone between the continents of Asia and Australasia. It is divided by the so-called Wallace line, which runs between Bali and Lombok and marks an evolutionary boundary that has led to distinctive floras and faunas on each side. As a result, the flora of Indonesia is extraordinarily diverse, with at least 30-40,000 species of seed bearing plants, accounting for 15.5% of the world's flora, including at least 3,000 tree species. Working under a recently signed agreement between RBG Kew and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the Global Tree Seed Bank Project - Indonesia aims to conserve seed of 50 wild tree species by 2018. Bogor and Cibodas botanic gardens will collect and bank the seeds.

In preparation for the Global Tree Seed Project and other regional seed conservation initiatives, a training course in seed conservation techniques was held in April 2017, attended by staff from the botanic gardens of Bogor, Cibodas, Purwodadi and Bali, as well as the University of Papua and the Pakistani Plant Genetic Resources Institute.

A group of training course participants stood around a nursery bench looking at the Kew trainer holding out a handful of red fruits
Participants on the 2017 Regional Seed Conservation Techniques course at Cibodas Botanic Garden, Indonesia. Credit: RBG, Kew.

Bhutan: Forming part of the Eastern Biodiversity hotspot and boasting an altitudinal range from 97 to 7570 metres above sea level, Bhutan is a country of extraordinarily high biodiversity. 5,500 plant species are recorded, of which 750 are endemic to the Eastern Himalayas and over 100 are known only in Bhutan. It is likely that many more are still to be discovered and described by science. Bhutan has an impressive track record of safeguarding natural resources, with a government commitment to maintain 60% of the land surface as forest, and 51% given protected status as National Parks or Biological Corridors.

Our partners at the National Biodiversity Center aim to make collections of 100 tree species by 2019 and have benefitted from a week long training course at their institution in December 2015.

A single tall tree on a partially cultivated partially wooded hillside with mountains in the background
Cupressus torolusa, the national tree of Bhutan. Credit: RBG, Kew.

Japan: From the hemi-boreal coniferous forests of the north islands to the subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest of the Ryukyu islands, Japan supports a vast number of species and is recognised as one of the World's biodiversity hotspots. Of Japan's estimated 5614 species of vascular plants, 33% are endemic. However, much of country's vegetation has been affected by human activity.

A group of people with seed collecting equipment standing in a row in front of a forest smiling
Participants of the Seed Conservation Techniques training course during a field trip to Yona Field. Credit: Alice Di Sacco, RBG Kew.

In April 2018 the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa signed a partnership agreement with Kew to collect seeds, for conservation and research, from three Islands in Japan. As part of the Global Tree Seed Bank Project - Japan, the University of the Ryukyus and colleagues from the University of Kyushu will collect the seeds of 100 tree and shrub species for long term conservation. The seeds of 70 tree species will also be collected for research on their seed desiccation tolerance.

Biosecurity and seed collecting equipment spread out on the ground while the Kew trainer explains the items to a group of trainees
Pre-field work equipment check and biosecurity demonstration. Credit: Sharon Balding, RBG Kew.

The project kicked off with a five-day training course at the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa which was attended by participants from the University of the Ryukyus, Kyushu University and representatives from six other organisations. The course covered many aspects of seed conservation, such as preparing for and conducting a seed collecting trip, post-harvest handling, as well as germination testing, dormancy breaking and desiccation sensitivity testing.

Three people sorting through seed on a lab bench
Participants of the training course cleaning seeds collected from the field. Credit: Sharon Balding, RGB Kew.

Funder: Government of Norway

Four people looking up through vegetation
Partners from Malaysia, Pakistan and Vietnam identifying wild bananas in the field. Credit: Luis Salazar.

The main objective of the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change project is to collect, conserve and utilise the crop wild relatives of 29 globally important food crops, ensuring their long-term conservation and facilitating their use in breeding new, improved crops. The global gap analysis carried out by the project identified the most critical gaps for global food security to be in south and Southeast Asia, amongst other regions.

Within Asia we are working with national genebanks in Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam through partnerships with the following organisations:

  • Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute
  • Nepal Agricultural Research Council
  • Pakistan Agricultural Research Council
  • Plant Resources Center Vietnam

Between 2014 and 2018 partners in these countries will make 821 high quality seed collections from crop wild relative taxa related to 21 crops, in particular rice, banana and pigeon pea. To achieve this we have trained 42 staff from the four partner organisations in seed conservation techniques on courses delivered in Vietnam, Malaysia and at the Millennium Seed Bank.

Funder: Roger and Ingrid Pilkington Trust

While not part of the wider Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change project, we are also working with the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research to bank seeds of from 68 taxa related to globally important food crops in Thailand, including bananas, figs and rice.

Funder: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

In the next four years our partners at the Plant Resources Center in Vietnam will make 40 collections of wild banana species. These will be used by researchers in Vietnam and at the University of Queensland to screen for resistance to Bunchy top virus, a virus which currently threatens the food security and livelihoods for thousands of people.

Hands holding a wild banana fruit cut in half showing the seeds inside
Wild banana Musa acuminata full of seeds. Credit: Luis Salazar.

Funder: Bentham Moxon Foundation, the Merlin Trust and tbc

A meadow of different yellow flowers with mountains in the background
Meadows in the Kirghiz Range south of Bishkek, with species of Handelia, Hypericum and Tragopogon.

Kyrgyzstan (officially the Kyrgyz Republic) lies at the heart of the Mountains of Central Asia Biodiversity Hotspot. It is home to a highly diverse flora, which includes around 4,000 seed bearing plant species, of which about 10% are endemic. A number of these species contain biologically active natural compounds of great potential value to medicine.

The MSB has a partnership agreement with the Institute of Biotechnology, within the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences and we have been working together to bank the seeds of Kyrgyzstan's flora since 2004. There are currently over 931 species collected in Kyrgyzstan duplicated in the Millennium Seed Bank, with a similar number stored in the seed bank of the Biotechnology Institute.

Kew is also working with the Institute of Biotechnology to create a Silk Road themed garden at Wakehurst Place. This will be a 2-acre flowering meadow filled with colourful flowers from the steppes and mountains of the northern Silk Road trade routes, including Tulips, Allium, Iris, Delphinium, Trollius, Geranium and Eremerus (the Foxtail Lily). The aim is to introduce Wakehurst's visitors to the extraordinary beauty of the Kyrgyz flora and the steps taken by the MSB and Kyrgyz partners to protect it.

Funds are currently being sought to support both the Kyrgyz seed conservation programme and the Silk Road project.

Project Partners

Countries with currently active seed conservation projects or agreements
Country Biodiversity hotspot/Tropical forest wilderness Institutions
Bhutan Eastern Himalaya National Biodiversity Center
China Mountains of South West China Chinese Academy of Sciences
Indonesia (Java and Bali) Sundaland
Center for Plant Conservation Botanic Gardens; Research Center for Biology (both within Indonesian Institute of Sciences)
Indonesia (West Papua) New Guinea tropical forest wilderness University of Papua
Japan Japan University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa
Kyrgyzstan Mountains of Central Asia The Institute of Biotechnology; the Biology-Soil Institute; the Center of Innovative Phytotechnologies; the Botanic Garden (all within Kyrgyz Institute of Science)
Malaysia Sundaland Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute
Nepal Eastern Himalaya National Agriculture Genetic Resources Center, (Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC))
Pakistan   Plant Genetic Resources Institute (Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC))
South Korea   Korean National Arboretum
Thailand Indo-Burma Bangkok Forest Herbarium (Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation)
Thailand Indo-Burma Forest Restoration Research Unit (Chiang Mai University)
Thailand Indo-Burma Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research
Vietnam Indo-Burma Plant Resources Center (Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences)

For further information please contact Kate Hardwick, Conservation Partnership Coordinator for Asia.