Russian property developers are preparing to bulldoze the world’s largest and most valuable field collection of genetically diversified fruits and berries - including almost 1000 types of strawberries from 40 countries - from which commercially grown varieties are derived. The site, near St. Petersburg, which holds over 4000 varieties of invaluable fruits and berries, will be used for constructing holiday homes. The worldwide fruit and berries market is worth billions of dollars with US strawberry exports alone estimated at $218.7 million in 2004.
Destruction of the Pavlovsk Research station’s cultivated fruits and berry fields will deprive the world’s breeders of a unique source of genetic diversity necessary to develop varieties that are better adapted to climate change, as global food production will move north. Strawberry breeders say the Russian varieties are exceptionally hardy and disease resistant. There is strong scientific evidence that land suitable for strawberry cultivation will decrease as global winter temperature will rise.
The Pavlovsk Research station, is not only the largest field genebank in Europe, it may also hold clues to addressing the world’s growing public health crisis due to chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases; especially in Russia where the World Bank projected the resulting loss of national income at 300 billion US dollars, between 2005 and 2015.
Cherries form just part of the threatened collection of fruits and berries at Pavlovsk. Photo: A Jarvis/Bioversity
Bioversity International says research it conducted with its partners on the Pavlovsk collections, shows that key species in the collection contain important phytochemicals for glycemic control and anti-oxidants, as well as being exceptionally rich sources of vitamins and micronutrients.
“We have evidence that these important genetic resources, which will be lost forever, could contribute to healthier diets. Russia is sitting on a global gold reserve of far greater value to the whole of humanity than as holiday homes to a few” Dr. Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International.
The court hearing that will confirm the handover of the land is scheduled for 11th August 2010. Bioversity International is now urging all of its partners and global institutions, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, to ask the Russian government to intervene at the highest level and halt the destruction of the Pavlovsk collection now at risk.
So far the Kremlin has declined to comment.
Dr Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International, will be in Australia in late August to address “Biodiversity and World Food Security: Nourishing the Planet and its People” the 2010 conference of The Crawford Fund, being held in Parliament House Canberra on 30, 31 August and 1 September. It is the key event in the Australasian region for the UN International Year of Biodiversity and one of few international events focussing on the biodiversity conservation imperatives in ensuring world food security. Other speakers include Dr Cristián Samper, Director, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; Professor Steve Hopper, Australian Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and Megan Clark, CEO of CSIRO.