Seeds, they are the beginning and the end. Protecting plant varieties and maintaining diversity is a constant challenge. A challenge that Nikolai Vavilov took seriously.
Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian agronomist, is still recognized as one of the most prominent plant breeders. He assembled the largest collection of seeds approximately 400,000 from five continents. Vavilov led 115 expeditions to 64 countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Taiwan, Korea, Spain, Algeria, Palestine, Eritrea, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and the US, to collect seeds of crop varieties and their wild ancestors. His goal was to protect and increase agricultural production in a major effort to end hunger on the Planet and, in particular, in its own great country.
Vavilov directed his work by identifying, collecting and studying cultivated plants to preserve their diversity. He was also an author of more than ten books on the subject. He put into practice his theories of how to save seeds of precious species and many of the seeds he collected are intact to this day.
His story ends with his sad imprisonment under Stalin’s rule in Russia. When Hitler’s army invaded Leningrad, his fellow scientists gathered green tubers from the experimental fields and hid in the laboratory. While saving the valuable seed collection, some scientists preferred starvation instead of eating the bundles of rice, corn, and other precious seeds on their tables.
Vavilov died in prison, the gulag, in 1943.
The principles of sustainability combined science with the ethics of preserving species diversity. A true hero of the saving seed movement. Today Nikolai Vavilov is recognised as the father of the modern seed bank.