Seed World

FAO and EU Relocate Ukraine’s National Seed Collection

On Monday, May 1, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with support from the EU, moved a collection of plant genetic samples from Kharkiv, Ukraine, to a safe location in the west portion of the country, according to a release.

The collection moved contained a large volume of diverse plant genetics — some of which aren’t available at any other seed bank, making it a unique and essential collection to Ukrainian agriculture and global food security.

The concern and reasoning for the relocation stemmed from the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, which previously injured facilities of the Yuriev Plant Production Institute of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine in May 2022. During the same month, the Kharkiv National Gene Bank was in danger of loss during shelling’s that damaged infrastructure, agricultural machinery and some of the working seed collections at the research stations.

“As the conflict intensified, scientists from around the world contacted the Secretariat of the International Plant Treaty to sound the alarm on Ukraine’s main national seed collection held in Kharkiv,” said Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. “This unique collection is of global value for the future of food security and sustainable agriculture, and if lost then it is lost forever.”

As of 2021, Ukraine estimated it held more than 150,000 plant genetic materials belonging to 544 crops and 1,802 species of plants. The collection also includes 39,000 unique genetic samples originating from Ukraine, including Ukrainian wheat, triticale, barley, pea, chickpea, temperate forages and sunflower — all of which are important to global crop production.

The collection was moved in a secure location in West Ukraine, over 1,000 km away from its original location — national authorities, including Ukraine’s Academy of Agrarian Sciences, the International Plant Treaty and the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) will be cataloging the seed collection.

“This activity aims to secure and safeguard the Ukrainian Plant Genetic Resources System and rehabilitate it in a rational and efficient manner,” said Christian Ben Hell, the sector manager for Agriculture at the EU Delegation to Ukraine. “While the collection is now in a safe location, further work is needed to ensure a sustainable solution in the long-term. It also involves improving the information system of plant genetic resources with modern IT support.”

“FAO has a unique role to play in supporting the reconstruction of Ukraine’s agrifood systems, given the Organization’s substantial expertise and experience in both humanitarian and development contexts,” said Pierre Vauthier, head of FAO’s Ukraine country office. “This initiative makes an important contribution to safeguarding future food production and resilient livelihoods in Ukraine and supports the critical role it plays in global food security.”