Saint Petersburg (AFP) Aug 7, 2010
A leading crop diversity group Saturday sounded the alarm over plans by real estate developers in Russia to destroy one of the world's most valuable crop collections.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust said real estate developers were planning to build houses on land occupied by the Pavlovsk Station, whose hundreds of hectares of fields house Europe's largest field fruits and berries genebank.
The Pavlovsk collection, in a town just outside Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg, contains thousands of varieties of apples, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, currants and other crops.
The case over the housing development is due to be heard on August 11 and if the courts rule in favour of the developers, bulldozers could arrive and destroy the site within months, the Crop Diversity Trust said.
"Throughout the 20th century, Russia taught the world about the importance of crop collections for the future of agriculture," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Crop Diversity Trust.
"It is a bitter irony that the single most deliberately destructive act against crop diversity, at least in my lifetime, could be about to happen in Russia of all places, the country that invented the modern seed bank," he said.
The Trust said it was calling on the Russian government to halt the planned development.
It said the Pavlovsk seedbank was established in 1926 by Russian scientist Nikolai Vavilov and became famous in the siege of Leningrad in World War II when its scientists starved to death rather than eat the seeds.
The facility now has 5,000 varieties of crops, including 1,000 varieties of strawberries alone.
"Its crop collections are thought to possess a host of traits that could be crucial to maintaining productive fruit harvests in many parts of the world as climate change and a rising tide of disease, pests, and drought weaken the varieties farmers are now growing," the Trust said.
earlier related report
Thousands of seasonal workers from Asia, most of them from Thailand, come to Sweden each summer mainly to pick wild berries in the north under sometimes difficult working conditions.
"Last night, around 120 Chinese berry pickers sat down on the road to protest," Kerstin Asplund, who is in charge of social services in the northern municipality of Storuman, told AFP.
The protesters carried out their sit-in after hiking 15 kilometres, carrying signs reading "SOS" and "Help," near the wooded area where they had been asked to pick berries, some 160 kilometres from the Arctic Circle.
"It is difficult to know what they want exactly, since there is a language barrier, but we know they are asking for an increase in pay," Asplund said.
After their sit-in, monitored by police, the demonstrators were driven by bus to a public venue that had agreed to accommodate them.
"We have explained to their employer, a Chinese company, that it is their responsibility to take care of this. But they tell us they are not able to discuss with them, that they do not want to work," Asplund said.
The demonstrators are part of a group of 200 Chinese berry pickers who arrived in Sweden's isolated northern region in recent days.
After a disastrous season last year sent many of the foreign berry pickers home weighed down by debt instead of profits, they have this year for the first time been provided with contracts guaranteeing them a monthly wage of at least 16,372 kronor (1,745 euros, 2,321 dollars).
Some Swedish unions however say the minimum salary is insufficient, pointing out that it in some cases is hardly enough to cover the money the workers have to shell out for things like plane tickets, housing and car rental.
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