As crops wither in Russia's severe drought, vital plant field bank faces
Hearing date is Aug. 11 for Pavlovsk Fruit Collection case; Russian
government called on to intervene
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (7 August 2010)‹As the fate of Europe's largest
collection of fruit and berries hangs in the balance of a Russian court
decision, the Global Crop Diversity Trust issued an urgent appeal for
the Russian government to embrace its heroic tradition as protector of
the world's crop diversity and halt the planned destruction of an
incredibly valuable crop collection near St. Petersburg. Pavlovsk
Experiment Station is the largest European field genebank for fruits and
berries, and is part of the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant
Industry, where Russian scientists famously starved to death rather than
eat the seeds under their protection during the 900-day siege of
Leningrad during World War II.
At issue is an effort by residential real estate developers to build
houses on land occupied by Pavlovsk Station. The take-over would involve
bulldozing Pavlovsk's field collections amassed over the last
century‹collections that contain thousands of varieties of apples,
strawberries, cherries, raspberries, currants and other crops‹90 percent
of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
"It is a bitter irony that the single most deliberately destructive act
against crop diversity, at least in my lifetime, could be about to
happen in Russia of all places‹the country that invented the modern seed
bank," said Cary Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which aims
to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food
security worldwide and supports the operations of the Svalbard Global
Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle.
IMAGE: These are the offices of Pavlovsk Station.
Click here for more information.
The fate of the Pavlovsk Station is now in the hands of the courts, and
the case is due to be heard on August 11th. If, as feared, the court
rules in favor of the property developers, and the Russian government
does not intervene, Fyodor Mikhovich, the director of the station,
predicts bulldozers will be on-site within three to four months, and
then, in a few days, destroy almost a century of work and an
irreplaceable biological heritage.
"Throughout the 20th century, Russia taught the world about the
importance of crop collections for the future of agriculture," Fowler
added. "This casual decision to destroy Pavlovsk Station would forever
tarnish a cause that generations of Russian plant scientists have lived
and, quite literally, died, to protect."
The Pavlovsk Station was established in 1926 by Nikolai Vavilov, the man
credited with creating the concept of seed banks as repositories of crop
diversity that could be used to breed new varieties in response to
threats to food production.
During the Siege of Leningrad in World War II, 12 Russian scientists
starved to death while protecting the diversity amassed by Vavilov, even
though the seeds of rice, peas, corn, and wheat that they were
protecting could have easily sustained them.
Vavilov himself was persecuted for his views on plant genetics and died
of malnutrition in prison in 1943. But Russia later renounced his
treatment and has since treated Vavliov as a hero. Today, the N.I.
Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry remains one of the world's
most important conservers of crop diversity.
Pavlovsk Station is a key part of Vavilov's legacy to Russia and the
world. The field bank was built up initially by collecting local
varieties from around European Russia, Siberia and the Far East, as well
as accessions collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by
plant scientists and botanists. After World War II, Pavlovsk Station
continued efforts to collect unique crop diversity from all over the
world, including samples of apple trees from 35 countries; strawberry
from 40 countries; black currant from 30 countries; plum and cherry plum
from 12 countries; and honeysuckle from Russia and Canada.
IMAGE: This is a field of honeysuckle at Pavlovsk Station.
Click here for more information.
Today, the hundreds of hectares of fields at Pavlovsk Station contain
more than 5,000 varieties, including 1,000 varieties of strawberries
alone. Its crop collections are thought to possess a host of 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 are now growing.
Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International, an
international agricultural research centre, pointed to the importance of
the collection for nutrition. "Our research with scientists in Russia
and Luxembourg has shown that some of the varieties at Pavlovsk are
incredibly rich in chemicals that can help protect people against the
growing threats of heart disease, cancers, and Type 2 diabetes," Frison
As Pavlovsk is predominantly a field collection, it cannot simply be
moved. Fowler and other experts estimate that even if another site were
available nearby‹and there is not one‹it would take many years to
relocate. There are efforts underway to craft an emergency relocation
plan, but technical and logistical challenges make it unlikely that more
than a small fraction of the collection could be transferred. For
example, the most suitable sites for relocation are likely outside of
Russia, raising complicated legal questions and quarantine issues that
accompany any effort to move plant materials across national borders.
In a bit of Kafkaesque logic, the property developers maintain that
because it contains a "priceless collection," no monetary value can be
assigned to Pavlovsk Station, so, therefore, it is essentially
worthless. Furthermore, the Federal Fund of Residential Real Estate
Development has argued that the collection was never officially
registered and thus it does not officially exist.
"I would hope that in this, the International Year of Biodiversity, the
Russian government will honor its history as a protector of crop
biodiversity and a guardian of food security for the future and stop
this misguided plan to destroy Pavlovsk," said Fowler.
The mission of the Global Crop Diversity Trust is to ensure the
conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security
worldwide. Although crop diversity is fundamental to fighting hunger and
to the very future of agriculture, funding is unreliable and diversity
is being lost. The Trust is the only organization working worldwide to
solve this problem, and has already raised over $140 million. For
further information, please visit: www.croptrust.org.
Bill S. Jersey USA zone 5 shade garden
Click to see the full signature.