Global Doomsday Seed Vault to Get New Batch of Seeds

Global Doomsday Seed Vault to Get New Batch of Seeds
The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, or “doomsday vault,” on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is shown in this file photo. (Courtesy of Global Crop Diversity Trust)
Naveen Athrappully

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which acts as a backup facility for the world’s largest variety of crops against potential seed extinction due to a global calamity, is set to receive close to 20,000 seed samples.

Officially opened in 2008, the seed vault is set about 394 feet into a mountainside on Spitsbergen Island. With 20 gene bank depositors donating 19,585 seed samples in the latest batch, the total number of seed samples at the vault now exceeds 1.2 million, according to Crop Trust, a nonprofit established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2004.

This makes the Svalbard vault home to the largest crop diversity collection in the world located in a single place. The latest batch will include seeds from countries depositing for the first time such as Albania, North Macedonia, Benin, and Croatia, Crop Trust reported.

“From here in Svalbard, the world looks different. This Seed Vault represents hope, unity, and security,” Stefan Schmitz, executive director of Crop Trust, said in the report.

“In a world where the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, natural catastrophes, and conflicts increasingly destabilize our food systems, it has never been more important to prioritize safeguarding these tiny seeds that hold so much potential to adapt our future food to such global threats.”

Svalbard Seed Vault

The Svalbard seed vault is estimated to contain 642 million seeds in total. It has the capacity to store up to 2.5 billion seeds. Food crops make up much of the stored seeds, with 69 percent being grains, of which 85 million are rice seeds.

Another 9 percent are legumes, with the remaining being seeds from vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other plants.

The pearl millet is the single largest seed species inside the vault, accounting for 13.2 percent of all seeds. Asian rice comes second at 12.7 percent, finger millet at 11.1 percent, common wheat at 8.4 percent, and broom-corn at 7.4 percent.

Just 17 nations account for half of the seeds in the vault, with India being the biggest contributor by sending 95 million seeds. The Svalbard vault has enough space to hold every seed from more than 1,700 gene banks in the world.

The vault was launched in 2008 as a backup for the world’s national and regional gene banks that store the genetic code for thousands of plant species.

“The whole of humanity relies on the genetic diversity of crops maintained in the world’s genebanks, and the Seed Vault is the last line of defense against the loss of that diversity,” Sandra Borch, minister of agriculture and food for Norway, wrote in the Crop Trust report.

Protection Against Seed Extinction

The Svalbard vault’s chambers are opened only three times per year to limit exposing the seeds to external factors, and they maintain a temperature of negative 18 degrees Celsius (negative 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

The seed vault offers protection against seed extinction, something that is already happening. The world used to cultivate more than 6,000 plants. Now, just three crops—rice, maize, and wheat—account for 40 percent of calories.

Being dependent on a few crops for food supplies creates vulnerabilities in food security. If the harvests for rice, maize, or wheat were to fail for some reason, it would create a global food crisis.

Between 2015 and 2019, the Svalbard vault played a critical role in rebuilding seed collections in Syria when the region was torn apart from war.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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