‘Noah’s Ark’ for Seeds Launched

In case of extinction, a “doomsday vault” for three million seeds will be built on Svalbard, a very cold island about 966 kilometres (604 miles) south of the North Pole. The seed vault will be guarded by polar bears.

Five Nordic prime ministers attended the ground-breaking ceremony today, three decades after the idea was born. Far from wars and not a terrorist favorite, the underground vault is supposed to preserve our crop diversity for hundreds of years.
In case of extinction, a “doomsday vault” for three million seeds will be built on Svalbard, a very cold island about 966 kilometres (604 miles) south of the North Pole. The seed vault will be guarded by polar bears.

Five Nordic prime ministers attended the ground-breaking ceremony today, three decades after the idea was born. Far from wars and not a terrorist favorite, the underground vault is supposed to preserve our crop diversity for hundreds of years.
It took almost 30 years. Scientists broached the idea in the 1980s. Seven years of negotiations at the Food & Agriculture Organisation [FAO] produced the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2001. Three years later, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research [CGIAR] asked Norway to study the feasibility of a seed bank on Svalbard.

The CGIAR and FAO set up the Global Crop Diversity Trust to ensure the future availability of seeds and run the Svalbard International Seed Vault [SISV]. It will serve as the last resort for some 1,400 seed banks. Many of them, in war-prone regions, could go up in flames at any time.

An underground chamber will be carved out in Spitsbergen, deep inside the permafrost of Svalbard. Planners say its remote location, inhospitable weather, Norwegian authorities and the “ubiquitous presence of polar bears” (yes, polar bears!) will enhance the facility’s security.

The cave would naturally prevent the temperature from rising above -3.5 Celsius (27 Fahrenheit) even if the refrigeration system fails or climate change accelerates.

The most chilling aspect of this project is the international consensus on the need for this type of Noah’s Ark. The loss of crop diversity as a result of climate change, diseases and funding shortage threatens our food security as the planet’s population inches toward nine billion.

Even for such common crops as wheat, apple and potato, diminishing diversity would make it more difficult to engineer disease or climate resistant versions, the Trust said.

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