A unique collection of seeds is safe from destruction in Syria after scientists managed to smuggle their precious cargo out of the country. Since 2012, scientists from The International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas(ICARDA), located just outside of Aleppo, have been working to protect their seed bank. The bank holds one of the world’s most important seed collections, preserving ancient seeds as well as seeds from staple food crops, like wheat and barley. The researchers have managed to get 140,000 seed packets out of the country.

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“The centre was occupied unfortunately by armed forces,” Dr Mahmoud Solh, Director General of ICARDA said, “but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us. They understood the value of the centre and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government.” The Syrian team managed to transport the seeds from the center to Lebanon and Turkey with the cooperation of the American University in Lebanon and the director general of agricultural research in Turkey.

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Although 87% of the collection had already been duplicated to prevent loss, 13% of the seeds were unique and may have been lost if the effort had not succeeded. Part of the work at the center involved studying ancient grains, which are resistant to salt and drought – vital work as climate change makes fresh water more scarce. Though armed forces are now growing crops on the land where the scientists used to produce seeds, the centre itself is still operational despite losses of some research and agriculture equipment.


Images via Neil Palmer (CIAT)