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article imageWith Aleppo in ruins, ancient seeds sent to Global Seed Vault

By Karen Graham     Sep 21, 2015 in Environment
Aleppo - Over 80 percent of the valuable crop seeds, some ancient, kept in a seed bank in Aleppo, Syria have been transferred to the Global Seed Bank in Svalbard, Norway for safekeeping.
The seed bank in Aleppo, Syria has been a major international research station for dry-land agricultural crops for many years. But when civil war broke out in 2012, researchers knew they would have to start thinking of a way to get the precious seeds out of the country.
The seed bank is unique in that it includes many ancient varieties of crops such as wheat faba beans and barley. These ancient varieties are studied for their drought resistance and ability to grow in soils with a higher salt content, making them vital to preparing for climate change.
Dr. Mahmoud Solh, the Director General of Icarda, the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, said the seed bank has already transferred 140,000 seed packets from freezers in Aleppo to safety. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said.
Dr. Solh added, "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." He said two armed groups have taken over the fields around the seed bank where the researchers grow crops and have been harvesting the crops for their own use.
The job of transporting the seeds out of Syria involved a number of twists and turns. Almost 87 percent of the seeds had been duplicated to protect against disease, leaving the researchers with only 13 percent to deal with. The seed packets were sent to Turkey, and then on to the American University in Lebanon. To ensure the seeds arrived safely in Turkey, "the director of agricultural research [in Turkey] came himself to the border to let the seeds in," Dr Solh explained.
Svalbard’s Coordinator Ola Westengen said that the problems faced by the Syrian genebank underlined the rationale for keeping a seed bank in as remote and safe location as Svalbard, says Norway's The Local.
The Icarda Seed Bank was the recipient of the George Mendel award in March this year for their work in preserving almost 150,000 seed samples. At that time, Dr. Solh said the bank was representative of the “genetic wealth” of humanity, with plants from some 128 countries, reported the Guardian.
More about syria's seed vault, Global Seed Vault, threat of destruction, ancient seeds, Civil War
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