Svalbard Global Seed Vault opens today

The President of the Commission and the Norwegian Prime Minister today opens the global seed vault in Svalbard. The facility will house seed samples of food plants from absolutely the entire world. Genetic copies of seeds that are already being stored in gene depositories elsewhere in the world will be stored here, thus providing an additional safety net for the world’s food supply.

26/02/2008 :: The seed depository is the only one of its kind in the world. The objective is to protect valuable food resources against plant diseases and the effects of climate change, wars and natural disasters.

The entrance is decorated by the Norwegian artist Dyveke Sannes. (Photo: Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed Vault.)

The seed depository will store seeds of crop plants that are important for food security. Svalbard is an ideal location for this purpose. Owing to the permafrost, the seeds will retain their ability to germinate for a long time, even if electricity supplies fail. The depository will store genetic copies of seeds that are already being stored in gene depositories elsewhere in the world, thus providing an additional safety net for the world’s food supply.

Seeds contain the genetic blueprints that determine plant characteristics. Wide genetic variation makes it possible to grow crops under different climatic conditions and to provide a broad selection of foods all over the world. Biological diversity provides an insurance against climate change, plant diseases and pests.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault consists of three enormous caverns blasted 130 metres into the permafrost outside Longyearbyen. The facility is designed to store duplicates of seeds from every corner of the world. With the capacity to store up to 4.5 million seed samples, the vault will eventually house seeds of as well as all important food plants in the world.

If seeds are lost, e.g. as a result of natural disasters, war or simply a lack of resources, the seed collections may be re-established using seeds from Svalbard. The seed vault is owned by Norway, which has also funded the entire project costing nearly NOK 50 million.

The seeds comes from every corner of the world:

  • We are getting several thousand numbers of potato seeds from CIP, the seed bank in Lima, Peru
  • 30,000 samples of different beans, plus a number of grass species are en route from CIAT in Colombia
  • CIMMYT in Mexico is shipping 47,000 seed samples of wheat and 10,000 types of maize
  • The seed banks in North America and Canada are each shipping several thousands samples of a large number of cultivars
  • From Europe seeds are coming in from the Netherlands and Germany 
  • 30,000 seed samples of mostly barley and wheat are coming from the region usually regarded as the cradle of agriculture, namely the Middle East.
  • Despite of all the conflicts going on in those countries, seeds from Kenya and Pakistan will be there for the opening.
  • The biggest contributor of all is IRRI in the Philippines. They are shipping 70,000 (!) different varieties of rice from 120 different countries
  • Totally, seeds from almost every country in the world, will arrive in Svalbard before the opening.

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The entrance of the vault.Photo: Mari Tefre.