Seed bank aims to protect world’s agricultural inheritance from Syria war

Lebanon project aims to recreate Aleppo collection of 150,000 seeds representing knowledge of generations of farmers in Middle East

The wild wheat seed had tripped from Aleppo to the Arctic circle in north Norway. It has now come nearly full circle to Lebanons Bekaa valley, where great efforts is under way to save “the worlds” agricultural inheritance from the ruins of the Syrian civil conflict.

Mariana Yazbek, who runs the gene bank at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas( Icarda ), held up the specimen. Anticipate how much potential is in this seed, she mentioned. Humanity is in our hands.

The return journey from the Arctic to the Middle East was not one the seed is anticipated to build. The Svalbard world seed vault, buried in a Norwegian mountain, contains hundreds of native seeds in all regions of the world, preserved in the event of a doomsday scenario to aid humanity rise from the ashes and help feed a shattered world.

The war in Syria, was launched in 2011, changed the calculus. Icardas Aleppo facility, which comprised a collection of 150, 000 seeds representative of knowledge of generations of farmers in the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture began, is now all but inaccessible to the organisations faculty so out in Lebanons agricultural hinterland a grand programme is slowly coming to life to recreate it using tests from the Svalbard vault.

Go back 10,000 times, all the farmers that worked in this region and on those crops, “theres” diversities you cannot find anymore in the fields, mentioned Yazbek. The only place where you can find them is in the seed bank. The specimens sent from Svalbard were the first ever departures from the bank.

The young men and women at the Icarda building in Torbol, Lebanon, methodically go about their business in silence, marking the fodder from the seeds, counting and recounting them, treating the fragile little plants for disease with a pink dye meant to ward off fungi.

Their sternness matches the severity of the task at hand. What we are losing is the history of these thousands of years represented in crops, and youre losing your safety net for the future, mentioned Yazbek.

The aim is to recreate the whole collection that existed in Aleppo, Syrias commercial-grade capital before “its been” devastated by conflict, in seed banks in Lebanon and Morocco using the tests from the doomsday vault and other replica that had been sent to seed banks around the world.

About 85% of the Aleppo collection had been be repeated in Svalbard, a process that accelerated when the conflict began and unavoidably reached Aleppo in mid-2 012. A third of those tests have now been sent to Lebanon and Morocco.

Many of the wild diversities no longer exist, and those seeds that have been saved represent decades and centuries of genetic selection by local farmers who helped to humanitys collective knowledge of agriculture.

A Syrian mortal walkings past shattered home in Aleppo following a snow cyclone on 5 January 2016. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/ AFP/ Getty Images

Maintaining them is crucial in order to preserve the broad genetic base and diversity of plant life of the states of the region biodiversity is already under threat as a result of droughts and climate change, over-exploitation and urbanisation that has eliminated the natural cover for much of the regions plant life.

Icarda, which holds seeds from the Middle East and other dry regions of the world, conducts experiment to improve the livelihoods of local rural communities, supporting technology that local farmers use, improving and breeding plant diversities to build them resistant to harsh climate, and is currently working on country and ocean management and animal health.

Biodiversity maintained by the seed banks offers a figure of insurance policy, as it allows local farmers to grow plants and produce that is resistant to extreme weather conditions and disease, demonstrating resilient to illness that may severely wallop mass-produced crops that have high harvest but are genetically nearly identical.

A short drive away, in service centres owned by the American University of Beirut, are two cold rooms, one at -2 0C and the other at 4C. In them are black boxes labelled Syria that came immediately from the Syrian government, as well as other black boxes containing millions of silver packets filled with seeds, meticulously labelled, that made the journey from Svalbard.

The entrance to the Svalbard world seed vault in north Norway. Photograph: Sipa Press/ Rex Shutterstock

It is wonderful to see the vault is already demonstrating its worth and that we have been able to help our friends in the Middle East to continue their essential work, rni Bragason, administrator of the NordGen government agency, which helps to manage the Svalbard seed vault, mentioned. This is proof that the world system is working.

Recreating the Aleppo seed bank is a major undertake. First they will be planted and allowed to germinate, then they will be replicated, and eventually brand-new imitates will be sent back to the doomsday vault for safekeeping. It is a chore that preserves Yazbek and her team up at night.

Its a burden, its own responsibilities is immeasurable, she mentioned. We have to make sure we give them everything, got to make sure they germinate and multiply.

We are the defenders of this history and knowledge, she said.

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