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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More