The world’s largest repository of fruits and berries, located outside of St. Petersburg in Russia, could be bulldozed to make way for a housing development later this year.

The Pavlovsk experimental station is home to over 4,000 varieties of fruits and berries.  The collection includes over 100 varieties each of gooseberries, raspberries, and cherries, as well as 1000 types of strawberries from 40 countries.  Moreover, 90% of the collection is not found anywhere else other than the Pavlovsk station.  The director of the  Global Crop Diversity Trust, Cary Fowler, calls the development project “the largest intentional, preventable loss of crop diversity in my lifetime – taking place during the International Year of Biodiversity.”

As we face the uncertainties of global warming, protecting agricultural biodiversity such as that embodied at the Russian research station becomes ever more important.  We need the genetic diversity of these varieties as a base for breeding resilient crops. One of the world’s top strawberry breeders, Jim Hancock of Michigan State University, stresses that “it would be a major tragedy if the collection were lost” and points out that the Russian strawberry varieties are very hardy and resistant to diseases.

The threat facing the seed bank’s diversity emphasizes the need to, well, diversify.  Why are 3,600 of the 4,000 varieties only found at the research station and not anywhere else?  The situation points to the need for farmers around the world to grow a diverse range of crops in order to prevent centralization of biodiversity.  Projects like the Ark of Taste, which seeks to keep rare heirloom varieties in active production, become ever more important in light of threats like this.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust, one of the organizations fighting the bulldozing of the seed bank, urges those who want to take action to write a letter to the Russian President expressing concerns.