When civil war erupted in Syria in the spring of 2011, The International Center [sic] for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) (Moved now to Lebanon) had more than 140,000 packets of seeds preserved in cold storage just 19 miles south of Aleppo when it erupted into fighting. Those packets included ancient varieties as well as a huge collection of lentils, barley, and bean seeds. These seeds were fortunately saved and ICARDA continues to operate, backing up its collection in the international seed bank in Svalbard as well as in facilities in nearby countries like Morocco and Jordan. Seeds are one of the most important resources for rebuilding a country after war, famine, drought, and climate change related extinction. The loss of biodiversity across the earth means that having a backup of the world’s seeds is more important than ever, climate change threatens up to half of all plant life on earth, and in the case of ICARDA, war threatened all of them. We can help countries in many ways after war, after disastrous climate change effects, but without seed banks which have seeds which grow in their own climate, they can’t help themselves recover. Thanks to seed banks across the world like ICARDA, the world can have a safeguard against total biodiversity loss, the potential destruction of all our edible plants, and obviously we can’t survive without them.
Just as in distant Svalbard and war-torn Syria, protecting biodiversity of plants, particularly edible plants are of critical domestic importance here in Ireland where we have experienced more than an 80% loss in food-crop diversity. During the Great Famine (1845 – 1849) the destruction of the main food-crop, the potato wiped out half of the Irish population from either death or emigration. As industrial agriculture plants ever more disease vulnerable monocrops, from hybrid seeds which cannot be replanted, preserving disease and pest resistant heritage and native seeds is so important. Many farmers use these to try and encourage their crops to develop resistance to diseases and pests, directly protecting our current food crop, and ensuring that if something wipes out these crops, we have a way to plant them again and keep us eating.
When you buy produce in your local store, it’s easy to find where the plant was grown. But have you thought about where did the seed come from? Would you like to find out? If so contact irishseedsavers.ie
This blog is written by Daniel Cosgrave as part of research for the Irish Seed Savers (ISSA) project. Any questions email firstname.lastname@example.org.