Miles away, in a remote archipelago deep in the Arctic, there’s a treasure vault of seeds that might just save the world one day.
No, that’s not the introduction to a sci-fi novel. Located in the far reaches of the Arctic, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a very real thing. It houses hundreds of thousands of seeds from all around the world, including seeds for many of the world’s most important food crops.
Created by conservationists, this incredible vault was established to preserve plant seeds in the event of a global crisis. Want to learn more? Read on to learn all you need to know about this incredible project.
What Is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure seed bank located on a Norwegian island in the Arctic named Spitsbergen. It sits about halfway between Norway and the North Pole.
The seed vault is home to a huge variety of plant seeds that are duplicates of seeds from gene banks around the world. It represents the largest collection of crop diversity on the entire planet.
Why Does It Exist?
The idea behind the vault: If other seeds were lost during a global crisis or even because of a mistake in a lab, there would be a spare copy held in the vault. In short, the vault is like a massive backup plan, helping to protect plant diversity and food crops around the world.
A Brief History
Who dreamed up a vault in the middle of nowhere filled with the world's most important seeds?
It began with the Nordic Gene Bank (also known as the NGB or NordGen), which began packing up plant seeds as early as 1984 in Svalbard.
However, it wasn’t until 2008 when a three-part agreement between NordGen, the Norwegian hovernment, and the Global Crop Diversity Trust resulted in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as we know it today.
Acting in collaboration with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Cary Fowler, an American agriculturalist and former director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, worked hard to make this project a reality.
Interest in the project was high from the beginning. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault began receiving seeds before it even officially opened, and now it contains seeds from about one-third of the world’s most vital food crops. At the time of this writing, the seed bank has received over a million samples.
After withdrawals, the vault currently contains close to 1 million samples and has the capacity to house as many as 4.5 million samples. Currently, the collection of samples represents over 13,000 years of agriculture.
Who Is Responsible For It?
The Norwegian Ministry for Agriculture and Food, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and NordGen are responsible for the Vault. Funding for the Global Crop Diversity Trust is supplied from governments and foundations around the world, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
How Does It Work?
The seeds are secured in an official way. First, they’re sealed into three-ply foil parcels then put in plastic totes and shelved in temperature-controlled storage rooms that preserve their viability and life span.
Who has access to the seeds? Not just anyone: For regular requests, researchers and breeders are to go to the original gene banks, not the seed vault. The vault is like a “break in case of emergency” reserve.
While the facility is owned by Norway, it operates like a bank with safety deposit boxes. Each donating gene bank owns its donated seeds and retains ownership of them. Donors are documented through a detailed database.
The World’s Food Safety Net
The Global Seed Vault is an important part of our global push for food safety and sustainability. We owe a lot to these researchers and their hard work, and over time, it’s likely that we’ll end up relying on this system to produce many of the foods we take for granted today.