In recognition of the value and threat to Plant Genetic Resources (PGR), the National Genebank of Kenya (GBK) was established with financial and technical support of the German Technical Co-operation Agency (GTZ) and became operational in July 1988. The Genebank undertakes exploration activities seeking as broad as possible genetic diversity of crops, their wild relatives and other wild species with social, cultural or economic benefit. All seed material undergo genebank processing procedures including extraction, cleaning, drying and viability testing before banking either for long-term (base collections, for posterity) or medium-term (active collections, for distribution) under suitable conditions. Routine viability monitoring is undertaken and seeds found with reduced viability or with low seed populations (due to distribution) are regenerated and multiplied. Conserved germplasm are also characterised and evaluated in collaboration with KARI centers throughout the country, Universities, other research organizations and farmers in order to add value on the germplasm held in the genebank. For species whose seeds cannot be dried to low levels of moisture without damage (recalcitrant seeds e.g coconut) and those that are Vegetatively propagated (e.g. sweet potatoes), field genebanks are established for maintaining the plants in stands. All the data that is generated in the process of germplasm conservation is properly documented in the genebank database.
During the establishment of the Genebank, five cold stores were established in various agricultural research centres affiliated to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). These include Mtwapa, Katumani, Kitale, Kakamega and Njoro. These were short/medium term storage facilities to provide breeding work with day to day working germplasm stocks.
In addition to being a service institution within the framework of KARI, the GBK has regional and global mandates. Duplicate collections of ICRISAT sorghum and millet, African mulberry and world Sesame collections are stored at the GBK. The Genebank is working towards the enhancement of appropriate storage practices for rural farmers. The Genebank has remained instrumental in the formulation of some global undertakings on plant genetic resources namely: CBD, GPA among others. The Genebank contributes to human resource development.