New crop varieties needed
New varieties of our crops are needed, such as varieties which can be productive in a changing climate, and feed growing numbers of people. But our ability to breed new varieties cannot be taken for granted. To develop new crop varieties, plant breeders and farmers need access to the genetic diversity of our crops. The diversity stored in genebanks across the world is the raw material necessary for developing new crop varieties that can keep agriculture productive, wahtever the future holds.
Vulnerable crop collections
Worldwide, more than 1500 genebanks hold collections of crops for safekeeping. But unfortunately many of these are vulnerable, not only to natural catastrophes and war, but also to simple and avoidable disasters, such as lack of funding or poor management. Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection. And the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur.
It was the recognition of the vulnerability of the world’s genebanks that sparked the idea of establishing a global seed vault to serve as a backup storage facility. The seed samples stored in the Vault are copies of samples stored in the collections of the depositing genebanks. Thanks to the the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a crop variety lost from the depositing genebanks will not be lost forever, but can be retrieved from Svalbard and placed back in the original collection.