UN lauds ‘innovative’ Norwegian arctic vault safeguarding world’s crop seeds
The head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has hailed a vault built into a frozen mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to protect seed samples from the threats of climate change, disease and disasters as “one of the most innovative and impressive acts in the service of humanity.”
Located near the village of Longyearbyen – some 1,120 kilometres from the North Pole – the Global Seed Vault will house duplicates of unique varieties of the world’s most important crops. Permafrost and thick rock will ensure that even without electricity, the genetic material stored in the vault will remain frozen and protected.
“The wealth that is being safeguarded in Svalbard will be the global insurance to address future challenges,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said yesterday.
Speaking at a conference in Svalbard held in connection with the inauguration of the Seed Vault, he noted that the world’s crop gene pool contained in seeds is essential for increasing crop productivity, mitigating environmental stress such as climate change, pests and diseases, and ensuring a genetic resource base for the future.
“Yet the crop diversity, contained in the world’s seed collections is constantly under threat from natural and human-led disasters,” Dr. Diouf said.
The establishment of the Global Seed Vault was facilitated by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, a global legal framework for conserving and accessing crop diversity, adopted by FAO member countries. Ratified by 116 countries, the Treaty paves the way for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources with fair and equitable sharing of benefits.
The Norwegian Government funded the construction of the vault, which has the capacity to shield 4.5 million seed samples, equivalent to about 2 billion seeds.
“Seeds are the vehicles of life,” said Dr. Diouf. The seed vault will ensure that the genetic variability needed for crop production is available to tackle future challenges in agriculture.