Global Crop Diversity Trust

A Foundation for Food Security

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Svalbard Global Seed Vault Deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time – and of natural or manmade disasters.

Permanent protection for the world’s food crops The purpose of the Vault is to store duplicates (‘back ups’) of all seed samples from the world’s crop collections. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that, even in the case of a power outage, the seed samples will remain frozen. The Vault can therefore be considered the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply. It will secure, for centuries, millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. 

Scientists have long been alarmed by the loss of crop diversity and the vulnerability of the world’s seed collections. The idea of establishing a back-up seed facility in Svalbard dates back to the 1980s. However, it was only with the coming into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2004, and with it an agreed international legal framework for conserving and accessing crop diversity, that the Vault became a practical possibility.

Managing the Vault The Seed Vault functions like a safety deposit box in a bank. The bank owns the building and the depositor owns the contents of his or her box. In the case of the Seed Vault, Norway owns the facility, and the depositing genebanks own the seeds they send to the Seed Vault; there is no transfer of ownership.

The Vault does not make material available to breeders, the way a conventional genebank would. Seeds are stored under what is known as “black box” arrangements, meaning that seed packages and boxes sent for storage will not be opened or sent to anyone except back to the original depositor in the event that they are required. The responsibility for testing material and for any subsequent regeneration and multiplication remains with the genebanks sending their seeds to Svalbard. No one has access to anyone else’s seeds.

The Vault is managed in partnership between the Trust, the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) and the Government of Norway. The management system for the Vault was designed with the goal of ensuring the longevity of the seeds, minimizing risk, and minimizing cost. There are no permanent staff on-site, though staff from NordGen travel regularly to Svalbard to monitor the facility and process new shipments when they arrive. Local officials also monitor the facility using electronic surveillance.

Funding of the Vault Construction of the Vault was funded entirely by the Norwegian government. Since no staff are needed permanently on-site, the annual operating costs are as low as around $300,000, and these costs are shared between the Trust and the Norwegian government.  If thought of as an annual insurance premium for the world's food supply, this represents astonishing value. 

The Trust is also assisting developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting samples of unique accessions from their genebanks to the Arctic, and the Trust is financing the deposit of samples from the international collections of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). 

The Role of the Global Crop Diversity Trust The Trust sees the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as an essential element of a rational and secure global system for the conservation of crop diversity – after all, every good system needs a back-up.

The Trust supports the conservation of crop diversity in genebanks worldwide. As an extra layer of security, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault stores a backup of these valuable seed collections.

The Trust is committed to supporting the ongoing operational costs of the Vault, and is assisting developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting samples of unique accessions from their genebanks to the Arctic.