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The Global Seed Vault

The Global Seed Vault, opened this year on the far-northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, is a backup for the backups. It’s badly needed as around half the seed banks in developing countries are at risk from natural disasters or general instability.

Superman had it right: if you want to keep something safe, build a mountain fortress above the Arctic Circle. That’s the thinking — more or less — behind the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Almost every nation keeps collections of native seeds so local crops can be replanted in case of an agricultural disaster. The Global Seed Vault, opened this year on the far-northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, is a backup for the backups. It’s badly needed — as many as half the seed banks in developing countries are at risk from natural disasters or general instability. The vault can hold up to 4.5 million samples, which will be kept dry at about 0°F (-18°C). Even if the facility loses power, the Arctic climate should keep the seeds viable for thousands of years.

The United Nations International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, ratified in 2004, created a formal global network for banking and sharing seeds, as well as studying their genetic traits. Last year, its database received thousands of new seed varieties.

At the Global Seed Vault, hundreds of grey boxes containing seeds from Syria to Mexico were being moved this week into a freezing vault to be placed in suspended animation. Collectively they harbor a vast range of characteristics, including the ability to withstand drier, warmer climate.

In reviewing seed bank policies a few years ago, experts looked at the banks in a new light, said Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “We said, ‘We may have some of the best seed banks in the world, but look at where they are: Peru, Columbia, Syria, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines.’ So a lot of us were asking, ‘What’s plan B?’ ”

“This vault is not a time capsule,” Fowler says. “It’s a living institution.” And while it lives, so will the crops that mankind relies on to survive.

The loss of biological diversity is currently one of the greatest challenges facing the environment and sustainable development. The diversity of food crops is under constant pressure. The consequence could be an irreversible loss of the opportunity to grow crops adapted to climate change, new plant diseases and the needs of an expanding population.

Descending almost 500 feet under the permafrost, the entrance tunnel to the seed vault is designed to withstand bomb blasts and earthquakes. An automated digital monitoring system controls temperature and provides security akin to a missile silo or Fort Knox. No one person has all the codes for entrance.

Let’s just hope we still like corn then.

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No Responses to “The Global Seed Vault”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Hi Linda,

    This day and age a back-up for the back-up is a very good idea. Sounds like if we ever need it, there will be more than corn!

    Barbaras last blog post..Safety and Cell Phones: What Pregnant Women Should Know

  2. Linda Says:

    Hi Barbara … Yep, there is every kind of seed you can imagine and more. But the way things are going with the weather, it is a good thing.

  3. Barbara Swafford Says:

    Hi Linda – What a fascinating story. I’ve never heard of a seed vault, but after reading about the importance of it, I’m happy to hear they exist.

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..NSNBOTWs – 2 Gals From Down Under

  4. Linda Says:

    Hi Barbara … I have been following this for a while now and was pleased when it opened in February …. so we have seeds available for the future.

  5. wilson Says:

    I never heard this before, Linda and I thought it’s a fascinating project!

    By the way, Linda. Do you think that there will be an underground safety basement, which is secretly under construction for the Doomsday?

    wilsons last blog post..She Has Finally Made It!

  6. Linda Says:

    Hi Wilson … Glad to inform you of something you did not know about.

    I believe the basement has been already built and is occupied already.

  7. Shauna Says:

    I had never heard of a seed vault either – but I must say it is a fantastic idea. We need to make sure ou depleting resources are covered for the future generations.

  8. Linda Says:

    Hi Shauna … You betcha… the more we can save now the better. As new batches for areas around the world come in, there is a movement to get them up to the seed vaults.

  9. Pearl Says:

    Wow – this is fascinating! I had no idea this existed – what a great idea.E very little bit helps with saving the planets resources.

  10. Linda Says:

    Hi Pearl … you betcha! It is a continuing effort that will help generations.

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