Monday, August 30, 2010

Pavlovsk Experimental Station, world's first seed bank, faces destruction

The Guardian recently wrote: “Twelve Russian scientists famously chose to starve to death rather than eat the unique collection of seeds and plants they were protecting for humanity during the 900-day siege of Leningrad in the second world war. But the world’s first global seed bank now faces destruction once more, to make way for a private housing estate.”

Sadly, a few days ago a court in Moscow ruled in favor of the Russian Federal Fund of Residential Real Estate Development, recognizing the legitimate transfer of the land housing the Pavlovsk Station for the construction of residential properties. That being said, President Medvedev has announced on Twitter that this issue needs to be “scrutinised” so the valuable field genebank is not lost yet. You can help save the Pavlovsk Station by signing the Global Crop Diversity Trust’s petition to the President of Russia to stop the destruction of the future of food or you can tweet Dmitry Medvedev on behalf of Pavlovsk Station:

@KremlinRussia_E Mr. President, protect the future of food - save #Pavlovsk Station!

Redcurrant berries (Ribes rubrum)
Redcurrant berries (Ribes rubrum)

The Pavlovsk Experimental Station was established in 1926 by Nikolai Vavilov, the botanist who conceived the idea of creating seed banks as repositories of plant diversity that could be used to breed new improved varieties of food crops.

You might ask why it is important to save the Pavlovsk genebank – the Guardian article puts it this way: “At stake, say Russian and British campaigners for the station, is not just scientific history but one of the world’s largest collection of strawberries, blackcurrants, apples and cherries. Pavlovsk contains more than 5,000 varieties of seeds and berries from dozens of countries, including more than 100 varieties each of gooseberries and raspberries.

More than 90% of the plants are found in no other research collection or seed bank. Its seeds and berries are thought to possess traits that could be crucial to maintaining productive fruit harvests in many parts of the world as climate change and a rising tide of disease, pests and drought weaken the varieties farmers now grow. As it is predominantly a field collection, Pavlovsk cannot be moved. Experts estimate that even if another site were available nearby, it would take many years to relocate the plants.”

In a weirdly twisted, almost tragicomical, logic the property developers have argued that the collection at the Pavlovsk Station is “priceless” and since no monetary value can be assigned to it the collection must consequently be worthless! The Russian Federal Fund of Residential Real Estate Development has applied a similar distorted “logic” by saying that the collection doesn’t really exist as it was never officially registered. Let’s hope that the ongoing campaigns can convince the Russian authorities that this important genebank needs to be preserved.

Half a strawberry
Half a strawberry

The strawberry and redcurrant photos are taken from Wikipedia and are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license and the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 respectively.

Read more on the Pavlovsk situation in this post.

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