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From Syria to Lebanon, Saving the Seeds That Could Save Humanity

Newslines – “The story behind the seed genebank, or “doomsday vault,” and how it thrives despite war and displacement seeds that could save humanity were in a vault in Syria. Then the war came, and the seeds were relocated to Lebanon for safekeeping. The move was actually a return to Lebanon, where ICARDA was first headquartered, before Lebanon’s civil war forced their move to Syria in 1984. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) emerged from and expanded the former Arid Land Agricultural Development (ALAD) Program of the Ford Foundation that operated in Lebanon in the 1960s and 1970s. ICARDA’s objectives are numerous, but they all boil down to improving the livelihoods of the resource-poor across the world’s dry areas, from utilizing limited water resources to improving the production of staple food crops. But the Levant region, where ICARDA’s presence is essential to its mission, keeps delivering its own turmoil. In 2015, 30 years after fleeing to Syria from Lebanon’s civil war, ICARDA relocated its genebank back to the relative stability of Lebanon, this time in full flight from Syria’s war. The genebanks managed by ICARDA aren’t only the world’s biggest; they also hold a large number of unique wild accessions — seed samples held in a genebank for conservation — from the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture first evolved over 7,000 years ago. The specific ecological and environmental conditions in the Fertile Crescent from early on have optimized wild relative species in the region to be genetically resilient to drought, increased temperatures, heatwaves, and disease outbreaks — the very same adverse threats brought on by climate change. In other words, the accessions in ICARDA’s possession already have the genetics required to survive on a hot planet. So, if a grown sample in a colder region isn’t able to withstand frequent heat waves and gets wiped out, the genetically resilient samples created in ICARDA’s genebank would come to the rescue — a salvation that scientists expect they’ll need in the near future…”

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