Sight Magazine – Ukraine’s giant seed bank risks being lost as war rages on

London, UK

In underground cellars near Ukrainian battlefields, the genetic code of nearly 2,000 cultures is at risk of being destroyed forever.

According to Crop Trust, a non-profit organization set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the risk was highlighted earlier this month when a research center near the bank National Ukrainian seed was damaged.

Ears of wheat are seen in a field near the village of Zhovtneve, Ukraine, July 14, 2016. PHOTO: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko

Both the facility and the Ukrainian seed bank are based in Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, which has come under heavy shelling from Russian forces.

Reuters could not determine the cause of the damage and Crop Trust only said the research center was hit, but declined to give further details, citing security concerns.

It was a great escape. Only 4% of seeds in the Ukrainian store, the tenth largest of its kind in the world, have been saved.

“Seed banks are a kind of life insurance for humanity. They provide the raw materials for breeding new varieties of plants that are resistant to drought, new pests, new diseases and higher temperatures”, Crop Trust executive director Stefan Schmitz told Reuters.

“It would be a tragic loss if the Ukrainian seed bank was destroyed.”

The seed bank director could not be reached, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences declined to comment, and the Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the damage.

Researchers rely on the diverse genetic material that seed banks store to select plants that can withstand climate change or disease.

They have become increasingly essential to ensure that enough food is produced each season to feed 7.9 billion people as global weather becomes more extreme.

At the same time, the war between Russia and Ukraine, the world’s third and fourth largest grain exporters respectively, has heightened food price inflation and the danger of food shortages, with protests erupting in developing countries. development that normally benefit from Ukrainian cereals.

Syria saved by saving the Arctic
The war in Syria has taught a lesson in the importance of seed saving using the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, the largest and most important seed saving or duplicating facility in the world.

In 2015, the Svalbard Vault was able to send replacement samples of wheat, barley and grasses suitable for dry regions to researchers in Lebanon after a seed bank near the Syrian town of Svalbard was destroyed. ‘Aleppo.

In total, Svalbard stores more than a million seed samples in a vault built into the side of an Arctic mountain.

These comprise 4% of Ukraine’s 150,000 seeds – representing over 1,800 crops.

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The Germany-based Crop Trust, which is the only international organization whose sole purpose is to safeguard crop diversity, has made funds available to Ukraine to copy seeds, but security and logistical issues related to war and natural cycles make it difficult to speed up the process.

Schmitz estimated that at best about 10% of Ukrainian seed could be saved in a year because it needs to be planted, grown and harvested at the right time before duplicates can be mined and sent to Svalbard.

An emergency measure would be to forgo the duplication and simply ship the collection to Svalbard, but Schmitz said that might not be possible in times of war.

Syrian seeds came from the Fertile Crescent, the region where sedentary agriculture is thought to have emerged, and Ukraine also occupies a central place in agriculture.

“Agriculture in Ukraine dates back to prehistoric times,” said Grethe Helene Evjen, senior adviser at Norway’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food, adding that many of the country’s seeds are unique.

Evjen said the ministry is ready to help Ukraine duplicate and store all of its seeds in Svalbard, but has not yet received a request from Ukrainian authorities.

– Additional reporting by VICTORIA KLESTY in Oslo, Norway.