Image via Permapoesis
From Civil Eats:
"As droughts threaten the wheat harvest in Russia, resulting in a ban on exports there this year that is driving up prices abroad, something entirely different now threatens one of the world’s most extensive collection of fruits and berries at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, a seed bank 19 miles southeast of St. Petersburg: development."
Yesterday I posted on an story I'd found firstly at Civil Eats (click to read more) last week and then again at Permapoesis yesterday.
In May I posted on an outstanding book I'd found by Gary Paul Nabhan "Where our food comes from" which connects to yesterdays post because both refer to the work of Nikolai Vavilov:
Civil eats cont. :
"Perhaps one of the oldest in the world, the seed bank was started 84 years ago by Nikolai Vavilov, who died of starvation in one of Joseph Stalin’s labor camps in 1943. His seed bank was famously guarded by 12 scientists who eventually starved to death during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, despite the fact that they were surrounded by edible seeds.
Now, a court will decide on Wednesday if the “priceless” collection of 4,000 varieties from all over the world–which includes 1,000 types of strawberries, and 100 varieties each of raspberries, gooseberries and cherries–will be handed over to the Russian Housing Development Foundation to be cleared for housing.
Unlike the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which maintains an immense dormant seed collection, Pavlovsk Experimental Station is an field seed bank, which means that all of the seeds must be regularly planted and saved. Currently, tens of thousands of plants are in the ground, and scientists argue that it would take years to move without the risk of losing varieties.
The erratic weather in Russia, as well as in much of the rest of the world, should be a wake up call reminding us why seed banks are so important: they give scientists the genetic material with which to develop varieties that can thrive in our planet’s changing climate.
A campaign is underway to bring attention to the potential loss. Dr. Cary Fowler, director of The Global Crop Diversity Trust, a Rome, Italy-based organization that has focused in on the seed bank’s plight, had this to say to the BBC:
Norman Looney, president of the International Society for Horticultural Science, based in Leuven, Belgium, agreed the collection was unique. He said that with world food production likely to move north as a result of climate change, “these genetic resources will become even more important”.
Jim Hancock of Michigan State University, one of the world’s leading strawberry breeders, said the collection housed many Russian varieties that were exceptionally hardy and disease-resistant. “It would be a major tragedy if the collection were lost,” he said.
I was very pleased to have artist and blogger Nicola Moss respond to this post with thoughts and questions about Seed banks and Seed-saving rationale and processes.
After a year of dialogue with Jason Halford at the Seed lab at Brisbane Botanic Gardens who works on the 'Seeds for Life' project in conjunction with the Millennium Seedbank Project I am just starting to grasp the ways in which such seed banks can be seen as effective as well as hear opposing views or qualifications on aspects of the work.
Jason recently gave a talk on the subject for almost 2 hours, including question time, at the Open Studio Week I conducted in July at the Gardens. With an intensely engaged audience asking probing questions Jason put forward the idea that it takes a great many different measures at this time ... different responses to different challenges to begin to address the complexity of the situation. Many times in the Seed Lab he has repeated this idea to me.
This input has been slowly digested and helped along with significant reading where possible to become better informed - and the book above on Vavilov which I was unable to read at length still proved highly worthwhile and led to a series of further reading on related topics.
Prompted by Nicola's questions I wrote earlier today;
"I urge you to read about the Russian Seed Bank.
If you go to the Civil Eats article it makes the point that unlike the Norwegian Seed Vault, MSB etc this Experimental Station 19 kms from the city is a "Field" seed bank - where all the seeds are regularly planted and saved. Currently tens of thousands of seeds are in the ground and scientists have argued it would take years for this to be moved without losing varieties.The reason for planned closure of this critical venture...is housing development. It has come to the worlds attention and there is now a global campaign in place to try to avoid the closure.
The fight to maintain our seed heritage is hugely complex because of factors like global warming- the need to have a certain stable climate to ensure species survive and so on. Research is critical to better undertstand this. Botanical Gardens, Zoos etc may have started, in part, as colossal vanities for the housing of colonial exploits. However many have no doubt been transformed into serious research centres focusing on highly critical issues.
I think this story from Russia underlines the vulnerability of maintaining long term projects like this active kind of seed bank you speak of... the whim of a govt or other bodies can irrevocably alter the future of such a venture. The fact it survived 900 days of Nazi occupation of Leningrad back in the early 1940's reminds us of the vulnerability of such programs.
Also having seen first hand the reality of attracting ongoing funding to Qld's Seed bank project with the MSB my question would be where would funds come from to manage the much more complex model of seed saving like this Russian model. What would it take for it to be identified as essential? Its become an intense political emergency in some places to regain the right to save seeds... Transnationals having come in and upturned centuries of tradition and heritage.... the poorest countries on the planet are dealing with this right now.
The MSB and Norwegian models for seed banking may strike some as highly problematic. What I have been noticing though is seed banks have been cause to grab the publics attnetion ....they seem to be the one thing that has reached broader public consciousness of the critical problem with our planet's seed heritage.
Imagine if people of vision had chanelled their funds away from, say, purchase of a $200 million dollar Picasso painting for example and instead into setting up a foundation for a version of the Russian model! Many appear to direct their wealth to personal vanities and statements that run counter to what would benefit the planet or its population in any way.
Replicating the individual venture of saving seeds in our back yard to national and global models... now that would be something! Thanks for prompting this dailogue Nicola... we need vastly more community dialogue on this!!!"