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A seed bank in Ukraine is at risk as the Russia-Ukraine war carries on. The genetic code for approximately 2,000 crops is at risk of being permanently destroyed in Ukraine’s underground vaults near the battlefields. According to Crop Trust, a non-profit organization established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the risks were clearly evident when a research facility near Ukraine’s national seed bank was severely damaged in May.
Ukraine’s national seed bank and the research facility are both based in Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, a location targeted by the Russian forces. According to Reuters, authorities did not discover the cause of the damage. According to Crop Trust, only the research facility was damaged; authorities could not give further details due to security reasons.
The lead researcher from the Yuriev Plant Production Institute under the National Academy of Agrarian Science, Serhiy Avramenko, released statements on his private YouTube channel. According to him, Ukraine’s important seed bank, established in 1908 and even survived World War II, was almost destroyed by intense Russian bombing.
According to Avramenko, thousands of samples of seed materials and ancient seeds were burnt. The preservation and storage site was severely damaged by Russian shelling. Experts are still trying to find out how the bank was destroyed as sites such as these are generally bomb, flood, and radiation-resistant.
The seed bank housed over 160 varieties of plant seeds and hybrids of crops, including seeds that no longer exist in some parts of the world. The seed bank in Ukraine is one of the world’s largest gene banks and Ukraine’s only plant.
Seeds banks are essential to humanity. They serve as a kind of life insurance. Seed banks supply the raw material required for breeding new varieties of plant species resistant to pests, droughts, diseases, and high temperatures, according to the executive director of Crop Trust, Stefan Schmitz. Scientists depend on the diversity of genetic material that seed banks store to breed crops that can withstand climate change and its increasing effects.
Seeds banks have become increasingly important in ensuring sufficient food is produced every season to feed over 7.9 billion people as climate change worsens. The seed bank in Ukraine is at risk of disappearing, and it would be a massive loss for mankind if the entire site was destroyed.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is not only putting Ukraine’s seed bank at risk but is also adding to food price inflation and food scarcity. Russia and Ukraine, the world’s third and fourth-largest grain exports, are adding to the rise of food prices, with protests breaking out in developing nations that usually benefit from Ukraine’s grain.
German-based Crop Trust, an international organization with the primary purpose of protecting plant diversity- has provided funds to Ukraine to copy seeds. However, logistics and security issues related to the war have made the process difficult.
According to Schmitz, approximately 10 percent of Ukraine’s seeds could be backed up in one year as they need to be planted, grown, and harvested at the correct time before duplicate seeds can be extracted and sent to Svalbard. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway is the world’s largest and vital seed duplication and backup facility.
The Svalbard facility could help save Ukraine’s ancient seeds and plants at risk from attacks. According to Grethe Helene Evjen, a senior adviser from the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, agriculture in Ukraine traces its roots back to prehistory. She further stated that the Norwegian Ministry is ready to help duplicate and backup Ukraine’s seeds. However, they have yet to receive confirmation from Ukrainian authorities.