Reports from last week suggested that the Russian military had destroyed a major scientific centre that held critical material needed for an end of the world scenarios. The National Gene Bank of Plants of Ukraine, which was created in 1990s as part of the Plant Genetic Resources of Ukraine (PGRU) project, was one of the largest research centres of its kind in the world. Fortunately, officials in Ukraine later confirmed that only a small agricultural testing site was destroyed, and all the samples owned by the gene bank are safely stored away in locations across the country.
However, experts have warned that should some of the samples be lost due to the war in Ukraine, it could trigger a food crisis for generations to come.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Stefan Schmitz, Crop Trust’s Executive Director said that the attack near Kharkiv “shed some light on crop diversity, on the diversity of plant genetic resources in general.
“Why are gene banks important? Creating new crops, breeding new crops out of existing ones is something man has been doing for the last 12,000 years.”
However, despite several millennia of cross-breeding plants, Mr Schmitz warned that the industrialisation of agriculture was decreasing crop diversity.
He said: “The more genetic diversity in the fields is decreasing, the more we are dependent on the diversity that is stored in gene banks.”
He also added that a rapidly changing climate is another major reason why preserving crop diversity is important.
He continued: “Now, mankind really has to react to these rapid shifts in temperatures.
“Breeders all around the world are now working on new varieties that will cope with harsher climates and be more resilient to changing circumstances.
“Farmers and researchers must rely on the diversity and availability in gene banks.
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In order to boost the food security of countries that are reliant on Ukraine’s wheat supply to survive, Mr Schitz noted that they need the gene samples inside such research facilities in order to develop crops that can withstand specific climate conditions.
He then continued: “The war triggered right now a short term crisis, caused by a disrupted supply chain, less supply from Ukraine and high dependency by many countries- that’s a short term effect.
“The long term effect is that if genetic resources are lost forever, that would deprive us of any future options of diversity and make us less equipped to deal with changing environments and future situations.
“Because of climate change, we need to think about securing our future in the next five to ten years.
“But we also need to think about our great-grandchildren, securing food for generations to come, and therefore making sure that as much crop diversity as possible.
“Perhaps there’s a seed that we do not need in the next ten years, but who knows, we may need it in the next 100 years.”