Tunnel built into frozen mountain will store samples of the world’s most important crops. The creation of the Global Seed Vault, which will house duplicates of unique varieties of the world’s most important crops, is “one of the most innovative and impressive acts in the service of humanity” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today. “The wealth that is being safeguarded in Svalbard will be the global insurance to address future challenges” he added. Dr Diouf addressed a conference in Svalbard held in connection with the inauguration of the Seed Vault.
Stored in permafrost
The vault is built into a frozen mountain near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Svalbard is a group of islands nearly a thousand kilometres north of mainland Norway and about 1120 km from the North Pole. Permafrost and thick rock will ensure that even without electricity, the genetic material stored in the vault will remain frozen and protected.
The vault’s construction has been funded by the Norwegian government. The Global Crop Diversity Trust considers the vault an essential component of a rational and secure global system for conserving the diversity of all our crops. The Trust is assisting developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting their representative seeds to the Arctic.
The Svalbard vault will receive some 200 000 seed accessions within the agreed framework of the Treaty. The vault has a capacity of 4.5 million seed samples, equivalent to about 2 billion seeds.
“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,” Diouf said.
It was the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, an agreed international legal framework for conserving and accessing crop diversity, adopted by FAO member countries that facilitated the establishment of the Global Seed Vault. The Treaty has now been ratified by 116 countries to pave the way for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources with fair and equitable sharing of benefits.
“Seeds are the vehicles of life,” Dr Diouf said. The seed vault will ensure that the genetic variability needed for crop production is available to tackle the future challenges in agriculture. Only in the next 25 years cereal production will have to increase by nearly 50 percent and much of this production increase must come from the land, water and other natural resources already in use.
Climate change is expected to have a profound impact on agriculture. “A likely increase in global average temperature would trigger substantial reductions in biological diversity including loss of genetic resources available for agriculture production,“ Dr Diouf said.
“Increased frequency of droughts and floods would affect local production negatively. Crop yield potential is likely to decrease for even small increases in global temperature, especially in the seasonally dry tropics which are also the centres of biodiversity. It could also lead to a shift in agriculture lands and deforestation. In developing countries it is estimated that deforestation already accounts for an estimated 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change in the near future will weigh heavily on agricultural ecosystems and on the people who depend on farming and agriculture,” he added.
FAO will host a high-level international conference on world food security, climate change and bioenergy in Rome (3-5 June) and another special event in November on feeding the world in 2050.
- Arctic Seed Vault
- International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
- Seed Portal
- Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Contact: Erwin Northoff, Media Relations, FAO, firstname.lastname@example.org, (+39) 06 570 53105, (+39) 348 252 3616