Syria is home to the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which maintains a collection of 131,000 seeds of plants eaten throughout West and Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
The seed bank has used these samples to rebuild crop diversity in war-torn countries, such as Afghanistan, whose own seed bank was looted in 2002 (see Looters threaten Afghanistan's agriculture).
But with the United States calling Syria a sponsor of terrorism, concern is growing that US sanctions and the threat of military action could disrupt ICARDA's work. One solution, says this editorial in Nature, is to increase support for the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research set up the trust to fund more gene banks worldwide (see Multi-million dollar fund banks on crop diversity). However, the trust needs US$260 million to preserve seeds used globally and to improve seed bank storage facilities.
With only 35 of the world's 1,460 seed banks meeting international standards for long-term seed storage, and nearly one-fifth of their seeds degenerating, supporting the trust's efforts to protect crop diversity and global food security would be a small price to pay says the editorial.