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Russian Housing Plan Threatens Seed Bank

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Russia's Pavlovsk Experimental Station houses one of the oldest seed and plant collections in the world. But this month a court agreed to let the Russian Housing Development Foundation take control of the land.

The Russian government established the foundation in two thousand eight. The foundation wants to build housing on the land near Saint Petersburg that the collection now occupies.

Russian officials could still decide to rescue the station. If not, it could be gone within months.

The station would not be at all easy to move, even if enough land could be found quickly. Most of the collection grows in the ground. Agricultural specialists say trying to transplant it would take years.

The Pavlovsk Experimental Station is part of the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry. The institute already existed as a research center when plant scientist Nikolai Vavilov reorganized it in the nineteen twenties. The institute was named in his honor in nineteen thirty.

The experimental station includes plants that are not found in any other seed bank. It also has Europe's largest field bank for fruits and berries. More than one hundred varieties each of raspberries and gooseberries grow on its many hectares.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust has been working to save the collection since it first appeared threatened. The trust, a food security group, has been urging people to appeal to Russian officials.

An order from President Dmitri Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin could stop the housing development. President Medvedev has started an investigation.

The collection has been threatened before. During World War Two, German troops surrounded Saint Petersburg, then called Leningrad. Scientists protected the seeds and plants even as people starved.

The Pavlovsk Experimental Station is one of an estimated one thousand four hundred seed and plant preservation centers worldwide.

Some have been damaged or destroyed by war, natural disasters and theft. In two thousand eight Norway opened a so-called doomsday vault designed to be secure from any threat -- even an asteroid strike.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is in the side of a mountain. The huge, icy space holds extra copies of seeds from other seed banks. In February, it received its half-millionth seed variety to keep safe

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. You can read and listen to our programs and get podcasts at I’m Bob Doughty.