Forestry

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

May 7, 2012, 7:22 pm
Source: Global Crop Diversity Trust
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Source: Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, or the Doomsday Vault as the media have nicknamed it, was officially opened on February 26, 2008, to serve as the ultimate safety net for one of the world’s most important natural resources.

Deep inside a snow covered mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time – and of natural or manmade disasters.

Permanent protection for the world’s food crops
The purpose of the Vault is to store duplicates (‘back ups’) of all seed samples from the world’s crop collections. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that, even in the case of a power outage, the seed samples will remain frozen. The Vault can therefore be considered the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply. It will secure for centuries, or longer, millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today.

The world's seed collections are vulnerable to a wide range of threats - civil strife, war, natural catastrophes, and, more routinely but no less damagingly, poor management, lack of adequate funding, and equipment failures. Unique varieties of our most important crops are lost whenever any such disaster strikes: securing duplicates of all collections in a global facility provides an insurance policy for the world’s food supply.

The Seed Vault is an answer to a call from the international community to provide the best possible assurance of safety for the world’s crop diversity, and in fact the idea for such a facility dates back to the 1980s. However, it was only with the coming into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and with it an agreed international legal framework for conserving and accessing crop diversity, that the Vault became a practical possibility.

The Vault is dug into a mountainside near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Svalbard is a group of islands nearly a thousand kilometres north of mainland Norway. Remote by any standards, Svalbard’s airport is in fact the northernmost point in the world to be serviced by scheduled flights – usually one lands a day. For nearly four months a year the islands are enveloped in total darkness. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that, even without electricity, the samples remain frozen.

The Vault’s construction was funded by the Norwegian government as a service to the world, and Norway also contributes an annual sum towards its operation. The Vault is managed in partnership between the Trust, Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) and the Government of Norway. The Trust considers the Vault an essential component of a rational and secure global system for conserving the diversity of all our crops. The Trust is therefore committed to supporting ongoing operational costs, and is assisting developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting samples of unique accessions from their genebanks to the Arctic.

The Trust is currently supporting more than 100 institutes worldwide to regenerate unique accessions and deposit a safety duplicate sample in the Vault. The project is also financing the deposit of samples from the international collections of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). To date 390,052 total seed samples have been deposited with Trust support.

Today the Vault holds over 500,000 samples. Information on the seeds held in the Vault, and how deposits can be made, is available at the vault website

Some Common Misunderstandings
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault has attracted the interest of the media worldwide. This has largely been extremely positive - the issue of crop diversity has been ignored for too long, despite its overwhelming importance to human well-being. Inevitably, however, given the extent of public interest, inaccuracies have also circulated, and it is useful to provide the facts here. Please also see our FAQ for more detail.

Regarding the funding of the Seed Vault, the Norwegian government funded the construction of the Vault in its entirety (this cost $9 million), and will continue to fund the maintenance of the facility, for an annual cost of circa $150,000. The Global Crop Diversity Trust funds the operation and management of the Seed Vault, as well as the transport of unique seeds from the international collections managed by the CGIAR and from collections in developing countries to the Arctic. This second component - the transport - is possible through our work with the United Nations Foundation, a partnership which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The complete list of all the Trust's funders can be seen International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. In other words, there are no seeds stored at the Seed Vault which would not be easily accessible simply by directly contacting the genebank which sent them.

These institutions send their seed collections to the Seed Vault in order to benefit from the safety and insurance this provides - storing seeds in the Vault is entirely free to them, and voluntary. The depositing institution signs a

 

Glossary

Citation

(2012). Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbf0ab7896bb431f6a2960

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