Gene bank raid in Sinai Peninsula sends humbling reminder to ecologists here at home

As Egypt fades from the news cycle and the “peoples’ revolution” progresses along its story arc, a quiet casualty of the political turmoil there has been reported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

 

Seed Matters, a non-profit organization dedicated to organic seed research, education, and advocacy, broke this story:

 

     “The Egyptian Deserts Gene Bank (EDGB) in North Sinai has been looted. This includes the destruction and theft of equipment, including the system used for keeping the seed accessions at a cool temperature. Housed at the Desert Research Center, this gene bank is comprised of seed and tissue samples of fruits, herbs, forages, flowers, and wild species from the Egyptian deserts.”

 

The article goes on to state that plant genetic diversity is always the first casualty of war or political unrest. Formal systems of seed saving such as the gene bank mentioned above or informal systems such as individual farmers and gardeners who act as seed savers can’t maintain their roles during these times.

 

Now, as to whom is guilty of the theft is anybody’s guess. I’m not so sure that a nation of people struggling to free themselves from tyrannical oppression would knowingly try to damage their own ecological legacy, making themselves their own oppressors. Of course, a gene bank would make a high value target for provocateurs engaged in a “psyop.”

 

Potential causes aside, let this be a reminder to horticulturalists here at home not to place all of our eggs in one basket and to delegate the job of diversifying the plant gene pool to more and more farmers and gardeners, while leaving the native species in the capable hands of nature and protected wild spaces.