News / Asia

Rare Russia Crop Collection At Risk

Priceless source of biodiversity that survived the Nazis faces showdown with real estate developers

The Pavlovsk Experimental Station contains Europe's largest collection of fruit trees and berry plants, many of them found nowhere else on Earth.
The Pavlovsk Experimental Station contains Europe's largest collection of fruit trees and berry plants, many of them found nowhere else on Earth.

Multimedia

Audio

Orchards harboring an extremely rare collection of fruit trees and berry plants may go under the bulldozer unless Russia's top leaders grant a stay of execution.

Scientists risked their lives to save part of the collection from the Nazis during World War II. Now scientists are wondering if they can save the collection from real estate developers.

Fight for survival

In September of 1941, Nazi forces were closing in on Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg. The town of Pavlovsk, 45 kilometers to the southeast, was already coming under fire.

At the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, a collection of 6,000 varieties of potatoes lay ripening under the earth.

That treasure trove of biodiversity held the key to Russia's future potato harvests. It was the raw material to adapt this vital food crop to an ever-changing world.

Scientists at the station knew what they had to do: start digging.

"The Nazis overran the station, but not before the scientists rescued the potato collection," says Cary Fowler, head of the plant conservation group the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

More than 600 apple varieties grow at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station.
More than 600 apple varieties grow at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station.

Unique fruit collection

Today, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station is home to Europe's largest collection of fruit trees and berry plants, including  more than 300 varieties of plums; 600 kinds of apples and nearly 1,000 types of strawberries; many of them found nowhere else on Earth.

Scientists from the crop preservation group Bioversity International have studied the fields and orchards at Pavlovsk and found much of it is unique, according to Director-General Emile Frison. "And not just unique by the name of the variety, but genetically very unique."  

"Some varieties [have] an exceptionally high level of micronutrients and vitamins," nutrients that can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, Frison says.   

Making way for housing

But the Pavlovsk station's collection may soon be bulldozed to make way for residential development.

Russia's federal housing agency has received permission to build on land where the fruit collection stands. Agency spokesman Andrey Tikhonov says the land is neglected and full of weeds. And besides, he says, officials at Pavlovsk wrote a letter in 2007 asking for the land to be developed.

"When officials speak of a state of neglect at the experimental station, it is a flat-out lie," says Deputy Director-General Sergey Aleksanian at the Vavilov Institute for Plant Industry, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station's parent institution.

"Of course, we cannot care for the plants in the same way as Japanese or Americans attend to their field gene banks," he says, "but the collection is alive, and 50 percent of the credit for that should go to enthusiasm of our scientists, who, faced with lack of money to hire workers, attend to the plants themselves."

And Aleksanian says yes, officials did send the 2007 letter - but they were asking for investors to support the cash-strapped collection, not to bulldoze it.

Dying for biodiversity

Russian plant scientists have a proud history of guarding crop biodiversity.

The Vavilov Institute was established by Nikolay Vavilov, who invented the concept of seed banks. They safeguard the genetic material that future crops may need to respond to pests, diseases and changes in climate.

During the siege of Leningrad in World War II, several Vavilov Institute scientists starved to death surrounded by sacks of rice, oats, and other crops rather than sacrifice the collection.

"How ironic that on the very piece of land where the struggle to conserve crop diversity really began, we now have this collection not threatened by bombs or Nazis, but by real estate developers," says the Global Crop Diversity Trust's Cary Fowler.

The Pavlovsk station lost a court case this month to save the collection. The station's supporters have brought its plight to the attention of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. According to an official Kremlin Twitter feed, the government is looking into the issue.


Supporters hope Medvedev will step in soon. Otherwise, they say the station will not have time to save the plants before the land is sold.

And the bulldozers won't be far behind.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid