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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid