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the vault seed bank

Woefully underfunded, many lack the resources to properly store or protect the seeds they hold. The Crop Trust is now raising money for an endowment fund to ensure that the world’s 1,700 gene-bank facilities are able to continue acting as guarantors of global biodiversity.

But as the fighting intensified, they were forced to leave behind their gene bank, one of the world’s most valuable collections of seeds, containing some of the oldest varieties of wheat and barley. ICARDA re-established its headquarters in Morocco and Lebanon, and restarted the gene bank in 2015 using seeds from the Svalbard vault—the first-ever withdrawal there. Woken from their icy slumber, the seeds were planted in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and in Morocco, and their offspring were carefully collected and processed to return to the vault. In late February, ICARDA returned the varieties of seeds it had taken out. “These seeds have come full circle,” Lainoff explains.

Millions of these tiny brown specks, from more than 930,000 varieties of food crops, are stored in the Global Seed Vault on Spitsbergen, part of Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. It is essentially a huge safety deposit box, holding the world’s largest collection of agricultural biodiversity. “Inside this building is 13,000 years of agricultural history,” says Brian Lainoff, lead partnerships coordinator of the Crop Trust, which manages the vault, as he hauls open the huge steel door leading inside the mountain.

The Global Seed Vault has been dubbed the “doomsday” vault, which conjures up an image of a reserve of seeds for use in case of an apocalyptic event or a global catastrophe. But it is the much smaller, localized destruction and threats facing gene banks all over the world that the vault was designed to protect against—and it’s why the vault was opened in February, when TIME visited.

Its only neighbor is a similar repository buried away from the dangers of the world: the Arctic World Archive, which aims to preserve data for the world’s governments and private institutions, opened deep in a nearby mine on March 27.

There are as many as 1,700 versions of the vault, called gene banks, all over the world. This global network collects, preserves and shares seeds to further agricultural research and develop new varieties. The Svalbard vault was opened in 2008, effectively as a backup storage unit for all those hundreds of thousands of varieties. The idea was conceived in the 1980s by Cary Fowler, a former executive director of the Crop Trust, but only started to become reality after an International Seed Treaty negotiated by the U.N. was signed in 2001. Construction was funded by the Norwegian government, which operates the vault in partnership with the Crop Trust. The goal is to find and house a copy of every unique seed that exists in the global gene banks; soon the vault will make room for its millionth variety. It also works in tandem with those gene banks when their material is lost or destroyed.

In an age of heightened geopolitical tensions and uncertainty, the Svalbard vault is an unusual and hopeful exercise in international cooperation for the good of humankind. Any organization or country can send seeds to it, and there are no restrictions because of politics or the requirements of diplomacy. Red wooden boxes from North Korea sit alongside black boxes from the U.S. Over on the next aisle, boxes of seeds from Ukraine sit atop seeds from Russia. “The seeds don’t care that there are North Korean seeds and South Korean seeds in the same aisle,” Lainoff says. “They are cold and safe up there, and that’s all that really matters.”

03/06/2021: This week, more than 30,000 additional seed bags from five continents were deposited for safe storage in the seed vault on Svalbard. It is the largest seed deposit since the pandemic was confirmed.

The vault hold the seeds of many tens of thousands of varieties of essential food crops such as beans, wheat and rice. In total, the vault now holds seeds of more than 4000 plant species. These seed samples are duplicates of seed sample stores in national, regional and international gene banks.

The Seed Bank was established and is fully funded by the Norwegian government, with the responsibility for operations assigned to The Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The Ministry coordinates daily operation with the Nordic Gene Resource Centre and the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and receives guidance from a dedicated international council established to advise the Seed Bank.

New shipment of seeds to Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Way up north, in the permafrost, 1300 kilometers beyond the Arctic Circle, is the world's largest secure seed storage. A new video produced by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food tells the story about the Vault.

Way up north, in the permafrost, 1300 kilometers beyond the Arctic Circle, is the world's largest secure seed storage, opened by the Norwegian Government in February 2008. From all across the globe, crates of seeds are sent here for safe and secure long-term storage in cold and dry rock vaults.

02/11/2020: Deep inside a mountain on an island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, more than one million seeds of crops from around the world are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The storage facility thus contains the world’s largest backup collection of seed samples. By establishing the Seed Vault, Norway has taken on a global task that will never be completed. The best way to manage this responsibility is to do so in an eternal perspective.

The management and operation of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is carried out by NordGen through an agreement between the Norwegian .

In June 1st, 2021, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault received its highest number of seed deposits since February 2020 – .

The idea of having a global security storage facility in Svalbard, to house duplicates of seed conserved in gene banks .

Global Citizens

The Norwegian government invites gene banks holding long-term and sustainable seed collections to deposit duplicates of their seed samples in .

The Government of Norway established and fully funded the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

When the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened to receive seed samples from the world’s gene banks, it received enormous attention .

We offer safe, free and long-term storage of seed duplicates from all genebanks and nations participating in the global community’s .