But though the need for seed banks is often associated with more stereotypically environmental, even futuristic, cataclysms (climate change; disease; pesticide-resistant insects) their history is inextricably tied up with something more banal and present-day—war.
…virtually no conflict has gone by without a devastating loss of seeds, often mitigated by a heroic rescue or underscored by a tragic attempt. Afghani mujahideen destroyed Kabul’s national seed collection in 1992. (Local scientists managed to smuggle some seeds into the basement of a few city houses, but by the time they returned to check on them a decade later, looters had dumped them on the floor in order to steal the storage jars.) During the Georgian civil unrest of 1993, just before the country’s Sukhumi Seed Station was destroyed, an 83-year-old botanist named Alexey Fogel escaped into the Caucasus Mountains with its entire lemon collection. Scientist Alexis Rumaziminsi, now known as the “bean boffin of Rwanda,” protected the many varieties of beans in his research plots during 1994’s civil war and genocide. The US-led invasion of Iraq resulted in the razing of the country’s national seed bank in Abu Ghraib—not to mention the implementation of American-style seed laws, which mean that if Iraqis want to buy new seeds, they will have to pay for yearly usage licenses.