Investing in education, knowledge and environmental awareness among young people – the Aegean Seed Bank of Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation continues working for another year with schools around Greece. An important initiative is the creation of school gardens, which are grown from local varieties of seeds which are being stored in the Seed Bank.
Observing the worrying rate of extinction of local varieties of agricultural plants, Archipelagos created the Aegean Seed Bank in 2005, which was initially set up on our research base on Ikaria island. Today it is housed in Samos, in the Maniakio building which is provided for mutual use by the University of the Aegean.
The long-term aim of the Aegean Seed Bank, is the collection, propagation, long-term storage and encouragement of the cultivation of the local varieties from the islands and the Greek mainland. This initiative, however, could not be successful without the participation of members of the public and farmers who actively support it. Archipelagos has developed a wide network of farmers from Thrace to the Aegean islands and Crete, with which we work closely for both the collection, cultivation and propargation of local varieties of seeds.
For this purpose Archipelagos collaborates with experts from both Greece and abroad for the long-term storage and propagation of genetic material. Along with a variety of other projects, via the creation of school gardens; Archipelagos is working to raise awareness of the conservational value of the local varieties of agricultural plants. It is especially important to get the younger generations engaged.
With the beginning of the new school year, Archipelagos has already begun its cooperation with several schools from Athens to the Cyclades and Dodecanese islands, and other parts of Greece.
The objectives of this hands-on educational action are for the students to:
- understand the benefits of local varieties of seeds, in terms of environmental efficiency
- gain knowledge on how to cultivate plants
- gain knowledge on how to preserve seeds to be used in subsequent crops.
The contact with nature, the increased understanding of the nutritional value of local products and the development of skills and team spirit, are good examples of the benefits to students who take part in the creation of school gardens.
Scientists of the Aegean Seed Bank are ensuring that these local varieties of seeds are cultivated under secure conditions, which prevents any risk of contamination from foreign varieties. These are cultivated using organic farming practices that do not involve the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
During the last year, on the fields offered to Archipelagos for use from several members of the local communities, we have grown numerous Aegean varieties of cereals and legumes. We have also carried out experimental cultivation on several varieties of vegetables in our own gardens.
The good production from our gardens the last year has enriched the seed bank with new genetic material. This also covered the nutritional needs of over 40 researchers and students hosted on the research base, and allowed us to make a donation of crops to local families in need.
Another important aspect of the Aegean Seed Bank is the analysis of the legal rights of farmers and other citizens to cultivate and market crops from local varieties. For this purpose, we hosted graduate law students from Loyola University, USA and Uppsala University, Sweden. Their work helped us obtain a better understanding of the legal framework of the new Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, and how it affects Seed Banks, farmers and consumers.
An illustration of the worrying disappearance rate of the local varieties: Out of the 200 varieties wheat cultivated a few decades ago in Greece, there are only 20 still cultivated today. This is a decline of 90%. Similar rates have unfortunately been recorded in many other agricultural plants.
Therefore we should not forget that the ongoing and systematic extinction of local varieties will soon lead to the point where consumer choice on whether or not to purchase GM crops will be made for us. If we allow the local varieties of agricultural plants to disappear, we will have no option but to consume GM products.
Director of Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation