“The Seed Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply,” says Stefan Schmitz of Global Crop Diversity Trust.
The flax seeds came from the Leibnitz Institute in Germany, while the emmer wheat came from Israel’s University of Haifa. Colombia’s International Centre for Tropical Agriculture sent peas and beans, Mexico sent maize, Thailand sent rice, and Sudan sent sesame – all seeds to be protected in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
“As the pace of climate change and biodiversity loss increases, there is new urgency surrounding efforts to save food crops at risk of extinction,” said Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Bonn-based organization that has spearheaded the project to save earth’s plant and food species since 2008.
On Tuesday, it received new seeds from 35 gene banks located on every continent.
The underground vault in Svalbard, a Norwegian island territory in the Arctic Ocean, has the capacity to store 4.5 million samples and currently holds one million. All told, that amounts to space for 2.25 billion individual seeds.
The vault was remodeled in 2019 to end its own vulnerabilities to sea level rise and climate-related factors, but it remains the most secure place on earth for protecting the future of food. It is built into a mountain in a place where earthquakes rarely happen, humidity stays low and the permafrost keeps the seeds frozen. It’s also the most northerly point on the planet easily accessible by air travel but still remote enough for isolation.
Tuesday’s additions to the collection represent a growing global commitment to conservation and crop diversity that will allow farmers to adapt to changing climates and growing conditions, said Schmitz. His organization works with the Government of Norway and the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen) to maintain the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was on hand for the seed-deposit ceremony, as was President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana. Other guests included the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, the local governor of a northern region of Nigeria in which its religion and indigenous culture are protected. The emir proudly wore his traditional attire some 1300 kilometers above the Arctic Circle, despite being used to a more tropical climate.
Solberg and Akufo Addo served as co-chairs for a “Seed Summit” held in conjunction with the deposit, which follows the €20 million upgrades Norway made to what is sometimes called the “doomsday vault.” That’s a reference to the fact that no matter what catastrophic events happen to the planet, the seeds will be there to support the continuity of the human community.
The conference focused on exactly that: how the vault works to keep seeds safe, and how they may contribute to adapting global food systems in the face of climate change, all with a view to ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“The Seed Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply,” said Schmitz. “Today‘s Seed Summit and seed deposit at the vault are extremely important for global food security.”