Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Seed bank

"Central Italy has 500 landraces, mostly maintained by aged farmers and gardeners and that is a big problem since there is a chance these crops will be lost within a generation - it's eroding that quickly," said Valeria Negri, a plant scientist at the University of Perugia who takes in orphaned seeds and raises them behind her home, the way a pet lover might take in stray dogs.

About 10 years ago, Negri and her students went door to door in nearby Tuscany asking households what crops each grew. When they returned several years later to request sample seeds, one third of the plants were no longer cultivated.

Three quarters of biodiversity in crops has been lost in the last century, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. In South Korea, only one quarter of 14 native species cultivated in home gardens in 1985 were still present in 1993. Only 20 percent of the maize types in Mexico that existed in the 1930s, exist today. In the United States, 95 percent of cabbages and 94 percent of peas no longer exist." (Thanks D.)

There is a seed bank at the American University of Beirut's farm in the Bekaa. Last time I checked it was seriously underused. There is a seed project waiting to happen here, in which local seeds (nearly all being replaced with commercial seeds) would be collected from all over Lebanon and cultivated in the AUB farm (of which 10 ha are certified for organic production) and stored in the seed bank. Lebanon is interesting because of its diverse agroecological zones and the diversity of its rural history. The project would cost very little, probably less than $50,000 but its potential impacts can be tremendous.

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