From sheep food to chili peppers – seed deposit at Arctic Vault takes the world one step closer to future food security

BONN, GERMANY – 23, May 2016 – Institutes from around the world made deposits to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault this week, marking another step forward in the fight to ensure future global food security. More than 8,000 varieties of crops from Germany, Thailand, New Zealand, and the World Vegetable Center arrived at the Vault, located on a remote Norwegian archipelago, to be stored deep within the permafrost.

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The Vault is located within the Arctic Circle, and helps to protect the biodiversity of some of the world’s most important crops against climate change, war and natural disaster.

The ryegrass and white clover seeds that have arrived at the Vault from New Zealand make up much of the feedstock for the country’s 60 million sheep, and the crops they produce have been worth an estimated NZD 20 billion to the nation’s national economy over the last 50 years. New Zealand recently pledged NZD 2 million to the Crop Trust Endowment Fund.

The deposit from Thailand has been inspired by its royal family, after Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited the Arctic and was encouraged to make the first ever deposit from her homeland. Included in this deposit is the Grand Father Sumet Chili Pepper, which was named by the Princess in honour of the Secretary-General of a Thai genebank, who recently became a grandfather.

Germany and the World Vegetable Center have made regular deposits to the Vault since it opened. The IPK genebank in Germany added more than 6,000 varieties, whilst the World Vegetable Center added nearly 1,000 varieties originating from 116 other nations for safety backup in the Seed Vault.

Depositing these seeds in Svalbard safeguards a rich reservoir of genetic diversity. Crop diversity is essential for the health of global agriculture and food production, which is threatened by ever changing environmental and geopolitical and socioeconomic conditions. Preserving duplicates of these seeds means that depositing genebanks can be restocked should this ever be required, and ensures that scientists and agriculturalists have access to the varieties they need to grow more resilient and productive crops.

Last year saw the first ever withdrawal from the Vault, as duplicates of seeds which had been preserved in Aleppo, Syria by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, were sent to Morocco and Lebanon from Svalbard, after the Syrian civil war had made the Aleppo bank unviable.

The Crop Trust, an international organisation devoted solely to ensuring the conservation and availability of crop diversity, funds the annual operating costs of the Seed Vault with its partners, the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and NordGen.

Kioumars Ghamkhar, Director at New Zealand genebank Agresearch, said:

New Zealand is prone to earthquakes, so I made this seed deposit my mission and one of the priorities after I noticed there was no backup for our national collections.

Dr Svein Solberg, Genebank Manager at the World Vegetable Center said:

The Crop Trust is playing an important role for genebanks around the world. It supports the regeneration and safety backups of the world’s seed collections, especially in developing countries and for the international genebanks.

Dr Ulrike Lohwasser of IPK Getersleben said:

Natural disasters and war are thankfully not an everyday threat in Central Europe. But we can’t predict what the future holds, so it is essential to have a backup of our vital seed collections. Svalbard is one of the safest places imaginable.

Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust said:

We are delighted to accept more seeds from around the world at the Seed Vault for safekeeping. Today’s deposit is another important step towards ensuring that the global agricultural system is secure and diverse enough to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Maintaining crop diversity, and the genetic wealth it provides to current and future generations, is beneficial not just to crop breeders, but to the farmers that feed all of us on the planet.

ENDS

Notes for Editors

The Crop Trust:

  • Is the only international organisation devoted solely to ensuring the conservation and availability of crop diversity worldwide.
  • Was initially founded by the UN FAO and Bioversity International. Half a billion dollars in total has now been invested by governments and the private sector in the work of the Crop Trust since 2004.
  • Spearheaded the biggest biological rescue operation of nearly 80,000 crop varieties while working with more than 100 institutions in more than 80 countries. As well as national governments, it has a number of high-profile supporters, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Supports and co-ordinates the gathering of plant materials; supports international partners who conserve and document crop diversity; ensures that the raw material is saved for future generations, through a global network of organisations.
  • Helps to fund the operating costs of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
  • Is described through a short film on its work here

 The Svalbard Seed Vault:

  • Otherwise known as the ‘Noah’s Ark of Seeds’, is a safe and secure vault for up to 3 million varieties of crops from all over the world, which helps to guarantee world food security forever.
  • Is based on a remote island between Norway and the North Pole. Opened in 2008, it currently holds more than 860,000 samples of crops. The facility was built and is owned by the Government of Norway.
  • Offers storage, free of charge, of safety duplicates from the seed collections being held in seed banks around the world.
  • Consists of three separate underground chambers, each of which has a storage capacity of 1.5 million seed samples. With the aid of its own cooling facility running on electricity from the local power plant, the vault is designed to maintain a constant temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius. The vault contains storage shelves on which the prepacked samples of crop seeds from the depositors (international collections, national collections, and seed-saving organization collections) are placed.
  • Is supported by the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen) – the implementing partner of the Crop Trust and the Norwegian Government.

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