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Historic Russian Seed Bank Faces Destruction

Historic Russian Seed Bank Faces Destruction

Priceless Plant Collection in Peril

Ninety percent of the more than 5,000 varieties of berries and fruit seed at the Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry seed bank in Russia are found in no other seed bank or plant research center in the world. During WWII, with Leningrad under siege, twelve scientists protecting the seed bank’s valuable specimens starved to death, unwilling to eat the rare seeds.

What makes a few hundred thousand plant seeds worth dying for? The carefully tended seed collection at VRI — one of the oldest seed banks in the world — preserves rare genetic traits that could one day help farmers save entire nations from famine.

Yet today, part of Vavilov’s priceless repository is in danger of being lost forever. The seed bank’s research station at Pavlovsk, home to thousands of rare plant varieties, is facing destruction by one of the most banal evils imaginable: a housing development. A group of Russian real estate developers plans to bulldoze the historic agricultural research center — and its fields of rare berry bushes and fruit trees — to build the Russian equivalent of a subdivision of McMansions.   


The Crop Diversity Crisis

Modern industrialized agriculture has encouraged the standardization of crop seeds. Most of the world now depends on fewer than 150 species of plants for food, and 90% of the crop varieties grown just 100 years ago are no longer commercially produced, leaving most of humanity dependent on just a few varieties of vital food crops like corn, wheat or apples.

This lack of crop diversity makes the food plants most people depend on for survival highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, disease and insect pests. With an artificially limited gene pool, most conventional food crops cannot evolve new defenses quickly from one generation to the next to deal with a changing environment. And planting the same variety of a plant from one field to the next makes it easy for plant diseases to spread. A new virus or fungus might wipe out not just one farmer’s field, but an entire state’s crop.

But older, heirloom varieties of food plants often carry genes that can help plants withstand drought, flooding and pestilence. And that is why seed banks like the one at Pavlovsk are so vitally important — by preserving a wide variety of plants and seeds, seed banks preserve genetic traits that one day might save entire plant species from extinction.

Save the Seed Bank

If the Russian real estate developers have their way, the Pavlovsk agricultural research station might be destroyed in just a few months. The Global Crop Diversity Trust and botanists around the world are petitioning the Russian government to save Pavlovsk’s seeds.

The director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Dr. Cary Fowler, is encouraging anyone who would like the Russian government to stop the destruction of this historic seed bank to join a Twitter campaign to convince Russia’s President, Dmitry Medvedev, (@kremlinrussia_e)to intervene.

TAKE ACTION: Tell President Medvedev to save the seed bank!

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Photo of apples from USDA. Public domain.

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9:52PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

tsk, tsk. I wish I could sign twice.

8:53AM PDT on Sep 16, 2010

Will the Russian Government or whoever owns the seeds be willing to sell them? If so. Maybe an organization can be set up here in the US or CANADA to relocate them here for preservation.

4:13PM PDT on Sep 12, 2010


4:46PM PDT on Sep 10, 2010

I suppose they figured that once a famine occurs they can eat their mansions.

11:23AM PDT on Sep 7, 2010

This is ever so sad...we have to stop them!

3:49AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

I found this article very saddening. As an organic gardener myself, I have experimented with many different kinds of seeds, keeping a yearly garden journal. I deadhead and harvest seeds from my own gardens. I believe this is very important. I've notice a BIG difference over the years with something as simple as a "Beefsteak" tomato. My question: Is there a possible donation program for seeds that other horticulturalist can contribute to?

7:20AM PDT on Aug 26, 2010


12:32AM PDT on Aug 26, 2010


8:29AM PDT on Aug 24, 2010

For more information check out the song "When the War Came" by the band The Decemberists

10:40AM PDT on Aug 23, 2010

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