Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity

Seed bank aims to protect world’s agricultural inheritance from Syria war

Lebanon project aims to recreate Aleppo collection of 150,000 seeds representing knowledge of generations of farmers in Middle East

in Baalbek. February 24, 2016

The wild wheat seed had travelled from Aleppo to the Arctic circle in northern Norway. It has now come almost full circle to Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, where an effort is under way to save the world’s agricultural inheritance from the ravages of the Syrian civil war.

Mariana Yazbek, who runs the gene bank at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Icarda), held up the specimen. “Think how much potential is in this seed,” she said. “Humanity is in our hands.”

The return journey from the Arctic to the Middle East was not one the seed had been expected to make.

The Svalbard global seed vault, buried in a Norwegian mountain, contains hundreds of thousands of native seeds from around the world, preserved in the event of a doomsday scenario to help humanity rise from the ashes and help feed a broken world.

The war in Syria, beginning in 2011, changed the calculus.

Icarda’s Aleppo facility, which held a collection of 150,000 seeds representing the knowledge of generations of farmers in the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture began, is now all but inaccessible to the organisation’s staff so out in Lebanon’s agricultural hinterland a grand project is slowly coming to life to recreate it using samples from the Svalbard vault.

Go back 10,000 years, all the farmers that worked in this region and on those crops, there are varieties you cannot find anymore in the field,” said Yazbek. “The only place where you can find them is in the seed bank.” The specimens sent from Svalbard were the first ever withdrawals from the bank.

The young men and women at the Icarda building in the town of  Torbol, Lebanon, methodically go about their business in silence, separating the hay from the seeds, counting and recounting them, treating the fragile little plants for disease with a pink dye meant to ward off fungi.

Their sternness matches the gravity of the task at hand. “What we are losing is the history of these thousands of years represented in crops, and you’re losing your safety net for the future,” said Yazbek.

The aim is to recreate the whole collection that existed in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital before it was devastated by war, in seed banks in Lebanon and Morocco using the samples from the doomsday vault and other replicas that had been sent to seed banks around the world.

About 85% of the Aleppo collection had been replicated in Svalbard, a process that accelerated when the war began and inevitably reached Aleppo in mid-2012. A third of those samples have now been sent to Lebanon and Morocco.

Many of the wild varieties no longer exist, and those seeds that have been saved represent decades and centuries of genetic selection by local farmers that contributed to humanity’s collective knowledge of agriculture.

Maintaining them is crucial in order to preserve the broad genetic base and diversity of plant life in the region – biodiversity is already under threat as a result of droughts and climate change, over-exploitation and urbanisation that has eliminated the natural cover for much of the region’s plant life.

Icarda, which holds seeds from the Middle East and other dry regions of the world, conducts research to improve the livelihoods of local rural communities, providing technology that local farmers use, improving and breeding plant varieties to make them resistant to harsh climate, and working on land and water management and animal health.

Biodiversity – maintained by the seed banks – offers a form of insurance policy, as it allows local farmers to grow plants and produce that is resistant to extreme weather conditions and disease, proving resilient to diseases that may severely impact mass-produced crops that have high yield but are genetically nearly identical.

A short drive away, in a centre owned by the American University of Beirut, are two cold rooms, one at -20C and another at 4C.

In them are black boxes labelled “Syria” that came directly from the Syrian government, as well as other black boxes containing thousands of silver packets filled with seeds, meticulously labelled, that made the journey from Svalbard.

“It is wonderful to see the vault is already proving its worth and that we have been able to help our friends in the Middle East to continue their vital work,” Árni Bragason, director of the NordGen government agency, which helps to manage the Svalbard seed vault, said. “This is proof that the global system is working.”

Recreating the Aleppo seed bank is a major undertaking.

First they will be planted and allowed to germinate, then they will be replicated, and

second, new copies will be sent back to the doomsday vault for safekeeping. It is a task that keeps Yazbek and her team up at night.

“It’s a burden, the responsibility is immeasurable,” she said. “We have to make sure we give them everything, to make sure they germinate and multiply.”

“We are the keepers of this history and knowledge,” she said.





PlantZoo: Plant biodiversity with plenty of advantages

PlantZoo is the name and label for my new daydream project.

I watched a documentary describing how vegetables are grown using filtered and recycled water from fish tanks.

The water from the fish tank is rich in nitrate compounds, the necessary ingredients for vegetables to grow without soil or fertilizers.

I guess instead of soil to stabilize the vegetables, a compost of mixed shredded coconut hairs and other leaves are used.

And I wondered: This is the future to grow fresh and healthy vegetables without the need of much land.

All you need is to build transparent edifices, shelves for the vegetable buckets, water from the nearby fish tanks and costumers to pay you visits every day to select and buy fresh produce.

The edifice is to be transparent to let in the light and the proper density of small holes to let in fresh air and keep the place relatively dry and warm, depending on the climate and environment.

You have a lighted place, colourful fish to harvest , tasty vegetables to grow and all kinds of roses and flowers to satisfy your eyes and soul. That’s heaven.

And you don’t need to worry about any climate, no matter how extreme and harsh it is outside the edifice.

You can eat fresh vegetables in desert or Antarctic places, with minimal amount of water.

I have been daydreaming of constructing these edifices for weeks now.

I want to build within these edifices trademark facilities to host associations caring for the well being of children, elderly people, continuing education for the elementary and secondary students, health facilities, technical schools, technology centers, environmental NGO’s…

Trademark facilities within a lovely, warm and colorful environment with relevant architectural structures that define the objective of the hosted facility.

The construction of the transparent edifice could be carried out relatively fast if we stick to a very few models with prefabricated walls, fish tanks, vegetable buckets, filtering facilities, water canalization and heat conserving techniques drawn from the sun, wind and other mechanism.

Training professional teams for the PlantZoo can quickly disseminate this new business venture that does not require much land, or water, and is relatively climate free.

And you can hire many people who will be glad to wake up and leave to a most welcoming destination, close to where they live.

Note: The land in the structure can be used for fruit trees.



Do you feel concerned if you knew that every two weeks a language (mostly oral languages) dies as the last elder person in the community is buried?  Thousands of oral languages cannot find a mother speaking to their children in the original local language, which a long lineage of ancestors carried for centuries to communicate and disseminate a culture, customs, and traditions through live stories and lovely myths.

You might say: “I know several languages that allow me to understand the main important cultures and read fantastic works” or “my language (mother tongue) suffices me to live comfortably and flourish in my lifetime” or “what should I care of a language if I am unable to read or nobody is interested in translating or nobody would do his thesis writing the oral language in a language that can disseminate an exotic culture?”

Fact is, most of us do not care to read works translated from foreign languages on the ground that “I don’t even read in my own language” or “I am not interested in culture or foreign customs and civilizations” or ” I am focused in knowing myself and changing my behavior before I can change or transform my community” or “I even do not converse, much less discussing with foreigners” or “English is all that I need to navigate the net and be in touch with the world.”

Fact is, many countries, large and small, speak varieties of languages within their borders; many communities at walking distances speak different dialects, while many townspeople at walking distances who speak the same language have different customs and traditions.

This last century produced “independent nations” with central administrations that enforced learning the dominant language for safeguarding a sense of “nationhood”, meaning that hired civil servants and administrators have to be able to communicate and write in a dominant language, meaning that trades and legal matters have to be carried out in the dominant language.

The equation in upholding the dignity of human rights should have been pretty simple and straightforward:  Extending opportunities and exposures to comprehending various cultures should not destroy acquired human rights, rights gained through centuries of continuous living cultures and customs.  History has demonstrated that supplanted civilizations never produced sustainable civilizations on the debris of  homogeneous and stable cultures that managed to thrive and prosper through centuries.

Whether you live in the poorest States or in the most powerful and richest States, there are far more people suffering (from famine, weak health, bad nutrition, unsanitary living conditions, unsafe workplaces, and lower than standard schooling systems…) than the few richest middle classes.  The exploiters are the same and the masters are the same.

What dignity weak nations are fighting to recover?  Is it erasing past humiliations?  Is it the revenge of past subjugation and enslavement?  Are we not in the same mess of slavery and dehumanizing social organizations?

What dignity are the poorer States claiming to regain?  Did they established equality under the law for all ethnic minorities, gender difference, religious affiliations…? Did they enacted equitable election laws to all citizens?

Nothing basically changed, except the substitution of “politically correct” euphemisms: cooperation replaced colonization, development is meant exploitation, privileged partners was substituted to indigenous people, moral entity for enterprises, mentally challenged for unsuitable eugenics races, genetically challenged for unfit species, sanitary engineers for cleaning workforce and garbage collectors, high in color for social misfits, repair-it-all for non graduate students…

What heroes and what traitors for which period, traditions, and moral value paradigm?

Why thousand of working and healthy languages and cultures have to go down the drain?  Whose is benefiting from this genocide on world scale?  Multinational corporations?  They never cared about living species, biodiversity, and sustainable environment:  Why should they care about dying languages and dying cultures?

Note: I received a comment stating: “What exactly is your argument for preserving these languages?  If they’ve been supplanted by other means of communication then what’s the problem?  Languages aren’t alive in any real sense.  They’re tools. If someone finds a better tool who are you to suggest they have to keep the old one lying around?”

I think we are communicating at a different wavelength.  First, how language is not a living entity?  Second, how language can be a tool?   Are you aware of a tool designed to communicate ideas, passions, emotions, and telling stories of hopes and expectations to next generations? Simply put,  languages of minorities, even oral languages, supersede in rights (legally and culturally) any other modern rights or laws because they were used for centuries and worked well for communities.  Actually, the UN super laws in the Charter guarantees conservation of minority languages. And third, has anyone asked permission of the concerned communities for abolishing their languages?
Suppose you managed to win a major right then, would you relinquish an
acquired right for another more powerful than you, financially,
politically, or militarily?  Shouldn’t you fight for these acquired
rights that nobody gave to you and that you instituted by continuous
practice and application?




February 2023

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