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article imageHope for saving famed seed bank hangs on Medvedev inquiry

By Martin Laine     Aug 17, 2010 in Environment
The destruction of the world’s oldest seed bank appeared certain after a Russian court last week ruled that technically it didn’t exist. But worldwide outrage and a last-minute Twitter campaign has prompted Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to interce
Developers want to tear down the Pavlovsk Research Station on the outskirts of St. Petersburg to build a private housing development.
Established in 1926 by Nikolai Vavilov, the research station houses 5,000 varieties of fruits and berries. More than 90 percent of them are found in no other seed bank.
Even during the siege of Leningrad during World War II, 12 scientists who worked there chose to starve to death rather than to feed on the seeds of rice, peas, and other foodstuffs in the collection that would have kept them alive. Vavilov himself died of malnutrition in a Stalinist labor camp after he fell out of favor with the Soviet regime.
According to an article in The Guardian, the developers of the proposed housing development argued that since the seed collection has been characterized as “priceless” it has no monetary value, and is therefore worthless. And, because the collection has never been officially registered with the government agency in charge of such things, it technically does not exist.
The court agreed, and gave the go-ahead for the housing project.
Following a week of intense lobbying, Medvedev announced on Twitter that he has ordered the matter to be scrutinized.
Because the facility is primarily a field station, it cannot be easily moved. Supporters say that even though they may have won a reprieve for the time being, they are not easing up on their efforts.
“Over the next four weeks, we will continue our fight t save Pavlovsk” reads a statement from the Crop Diversity Trust, which has been spearheading the campaign to save the seed bank. “We need to persuade the political authorities of the importance of the irreplaceable crop diversity.”
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