International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture



Svalbard Global Seed Vault Welcomes First Ever Seed Deposits from Spain and Lithuania 

Svalbard, Norway – 11 June 2022: Through clear Arctic skies, the small plane carrying 10 precious boxes of seeds from Spain arrived at Svalbard airport on the morning of the 7th of June. Two days later a box arrived from Lithuania. It was an occasion for the two countries to celebrate.

Lithuania deposited 123 seed samples of 28 varying species, including forage plants as well as cereals and vegetables, in the -18 degree Celsius Global Seed Vault.

“The Nordic Centre for Genetic Resources will ensure the preservation of Lithuania's most valuable plant seeds for future generations. This is an important contribution to fostering regional and global biodiversity and the recognition of Lithuanian seed breeders, who are celebrating the 100th anniversary this year," said Simonas Gentvilas, the Lithuanian Minister of Environment.

Spain’s deposit contained 979 seed samples of 102 species.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for six years,” said Luis Guersch Pereira, Director of the Plant Genetic Resources Center of Spain’s National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA-CSIC), describing the challenges they had to overcome to make this first deposit. 

“Spain has some very unique seeds, some we all know – different types of tomato, peppers, and cabbages, saffron and garlic – but then there are the neglected legumes used in the past but rarely cultivated nowadays that represent the loss of plant diversity in our diets.” 

Director Pereira described how it was important for the genebanks in Spain to regenerate and multiply seeds at risk, to ensure the country had a good base collection. This, he explained, takes time especially for those with a low germination rate. 

The deposit of seeds from each country is a significant moment, due to the huge diversity of material from the countries.

“Spain historically is a country of great change. There were the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans… then there are the strong Arab influences. There have also been interchanges with Latin America and more recently, Florida and California. The seeds are part of our global heritage,” explained Ángeles Gómez Borrego, Vice-President of International Relations of the Superior Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), who accompanied the seeds to Svalbard to witness the handover. 

“Neither Lithuania or the other Baltic states are currently very safe places,” explained Bronislovas Gelvonauskis, Advisor of Forest Genetic Resources Department of State Forest Service of Lithuania. “It is impossible to say what will happen here in the future; therefore, it is very important to have duplicates of our seeds stored in a safe place, such as Svalbard.”

The Seed Vault only opens for deposits twice a year, once in summer, once in winter. This month, 19 391 new seed samples from 11 genebanks around the world, including those from indigenous communities, were deposited at the Global Seed Vault.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which oversees a Multilateral System for Access and Benefit-sharing of plant genetic resources, provides the international legal framework needed for the establishment of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault by Government of Norway.

The Seed Vault is operated by the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) in cooperation with the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Today, the Seed Vault safeguards duplicates of 1 145 693 seed varieties from 91 countries in the world, with room for millions more. Its purpose is to backup genebank collections from international, national and regional genebanks and institutions, to secure the foundation of our future food supply. Once in the Seed Vault, countries retain full ownership of their own seeds, which are sealed in boxes by the depositors and cannot be withdrawn or distributed by anyone other than the depositors.

Åsmund Asdal, Coordinator of the Global Seed Vault, described how in the 15 years that the Vault has been operational, there has only been one request to withdraw seeds. “The first and so far only request for seed samples was made to replace a collection from the Syrian city of Aleppo that was damaged by the war.” The boxes of seeds originally deposited by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) genebank in Aleppo, Syria, were taken out of the Seed Vault in 2015 and sent back to ICARDA units in Morocco and Lebanon to be duplicated. All the withdrawn Syrian seed varieties have subsequently been safely re-deposited into the Vault.

Worldwide, more than 1 700 genebanks hold collections of food crops for safekeeping, yet many of these are vulnerable, exposed not only to crises like climate change and war, but also to easily avoidable disasters like a malfunctioning refrigeration systems.

Seeds are too precious to risk losing, and the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of an animal – it is lost forever. 

“As world crises continue to unfold around us, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides an insurance for our food security, a lifeline, so that in the event of any disaster, all is not lost,” said Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the International Treaty, who travelled to Svalbard for the June opening of the Vault.



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