Alarm over Russia plan to destroy crop collection

7th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A leading crop diversity group Saturday sounded the alarm over plans by real estate developers in Russia to destroy one of the world's most valuable crop collections.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust said real estate developers were planning to build houses on land occupied by the Pavlovsk Station, whose hundreds of hectares of fields house Europe's largest field fruits and berries genebank.

The Pavlovsk collection, in a town just outside Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg, contains thousands of varieties of apples, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, currants and other crops.

The case over the housing development is due to be heard on August 11 and if the courts rule in favour of the developers, bulldozers could arrive and destroy the site within months, the Crop Diversity Trust said.

"Throughout the 20th century, Russia taught the world about the importance of crop collections for the future of agriculture," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Crop Diversity Trust.

"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," he said.

The Trust said it was calling on the Russian government to halt the planned development.

It said the Pavlovsk seedbank was established in 1926 by Russian scientist Nikolai Vavilov and became famous in the siege of Leningrad in World War II when its scientists starved to death rather than eat the seeds.

The facility now has 5,000 varieties of crops, 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," the Trust said.

© 2010 AFP

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