Norway’s Seed Vault acquires 20,000 new samples as climate pressure mounts
Image credit: Shaliz Barzani for the Crop Trust
A vault holding seeds from thousands of plant species around the world has accepted another batch of nearly 20,000 seed samples as part of efforts to secure the world’s food supplies as climate change concerns mount.
20 depositors, including those with seed collections from Albania, Croatia, North Macedonia and Benin, took the trip to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault this week.
The Seed Vault is a secure backup facility designed to provide long-term storage of duplicates of seeds conserved in gene banks around the world.
Since it opened in 2008, the Seed Vault has been steadily collecting seeds and now holds over 1.2 million distinct crop samples, representing more than 13,000 years of agricultural history. In total, the Vault holds over 20 million individual seeds.
The Vault is set 120m inside an Arctic mountainside on the remote Spitsbergen Island, off the coast of Norway.
The latest deposit includes 290 samples of maize, wheat and beans from the Institute of Plant Genetic Resources of Albania and over 1600 samples, including wild relatives of rice and watermelon, from the Institut d’Economie Rurale in Mali.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in India will also deposit 4,000 samples, including sorghum, chickpea and groundnut.
Once safely delivered, the new samples will join the tens of thousands already stored in the subterranean seed chambers at temperatures around -18°C.
The Vault has been designed to withstand changing weather conditions brought about by climate change, but has already had to contend with water seepage into its main entrance tunnel. This has led to efforts to improve the waterproofing of its tunnel walls and digging extra drainage ditches around the facility.
Keeping all the seeds safe requires stringent security, with only a handful of staff members allowed inside the Vault.
Four of the recent deposits were made possible thanks to support from the Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development (Bold) Project, a global 10-year initiative to strengthen global food and nutrition security funded by the Government of Norway and led by the Crop Trust, which manages the Vault.
In 2021, the Government of Norway launched the Bold Project with a $58m (£48m) grant, which has given gene banks based in low- and middle-income countries the opportunity to back up their crop diversity.
As part of its 15th anniversary, the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens is planning to deposit beetroot, carrots and bumblebee-friendly clover seed varieties.
Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust, said: “From here in Svalbard, the world looks different. This Seed Vault represents hope, unity and security.
"In a world where the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, natural catastrophes and conflicts increasingly destabilise our food systems, it has never been more important to prioritise safeguarding these tiny seeds that hold so much potential to adapt our future food to such global threats.”
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