International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

10th Anniversary of the Global Seed Vault


Saving Seeds for the Future

Svalbard, Norway, 26 February 2018 – Politicians, plant geneticists, scientists and international experts from around the world gathered at a massive Norwegian mountain today to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the global seed vault located in Svalbard, Norway. Inside the iconic wedge-shaped structure built into a mountain lie over 1 million samples of different crops from almost every country in the world, the largest collection of agricultural biodiversity. This seed material – also known as plant genetic resources – forms the foundation of virtually all our food.

Most of the seeds stored at Svalbard are of crops that form part of the Multilateral System of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which enables member countries to access and exchange seeds and information across borders.

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is like the world’s ‘bank of last resort’ when it comes to saving the seeds of our crops that form the basis of future food security and nutrition” said Kent Nnadozie Secretary of the FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, underlining the inextricable connection between global seed vault and the International Treaty. “The global seed vault provides the world with a vital back-up plan, while the International Treaty helps member countries actively exchange seeds and information to maintain the biodiversity in farmers’ fields. In this way, the International Treaty helps conserve biodiversity from the local to a global level.”

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which came into force in 2004, provided the impetus for the Norwegian Government to proceed with the establishment of the global seed vault and establishes the international governance framework for the conservation of seeds.

Established in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the brainchild of plant genetic visionaries who felt it was essential for the world to have a ‘back-up plan’ for our food crops, stored in a secure and controlled environment (-18 degrees Celsius / -0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) to ensure their conservation and future availability, particularly in case of natural or manmade disasters. The seeds in the Svalbard global seed vault remain the sovereign property of the depositors who seal the containers upon deposit, and are the only ones who can access them again. These deposits are back-ups of material from seed genebanks from around the world. The global seed vault can store up to 4.5 million seeds samples, and is designed to preserve the seeds, keeping them viable for regeneration for decades, even centuries to come.

A recent example of how this “back-up” system has helped is from Syria: The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) rescued thousands of seed samples from genebanks in Aleppo and brought them to the global seed vault in Svalbard for safe-keeping during the violent conflict in Syria. Some of these seeds were later withdrawn (in September 2017) for regeneration, and the copies of significant number of them have already been sent back into the vault.

The Svalbard global seed vault was built by the Norwegian government at an initial cost of approximately USD $9 million and is run by a tripartite agreement between the Government of Norway, Nordic Genetic Resources Center (NordGen) and the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust).

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