The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is part of a global effort to secure the diversity of our most important crop plants to ensure that humanity has food seeds in spite of wars, climate change, and natural disasters. The Seed Vault is the answer to the international community’s pressing need for the future of global agriculture as a bank for storing seeds to conserve diversity and food security for people today and beyond. Located near the North Pole in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, the Seed Vault is completely funded by the government of Norway and built to the highest standards. Tucked away in a frozen mountain that keeps the seeds cool at -18⁰C, a long tunnel, partially encased in a steel tube, leads 130 meters deep to the entrance of the vault rooms containing seeds from countries around the world. The seeds are carefully dried and frozen to preserve them for hundreds of years.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was built in 2008 under the guidance of Cary Fowler, a long time champion of seed saving, who had worked over 20 years to establish an international seed bank. The heirloom seed savers movement, started over a hundred years ago, is concerned about the sustainability of the environment and the loss of thousands of vegetable plant varieties in the last century. Big biotech companies want to control all the seeds, and they are patenting and privatizing seeds, making it illegal for farmers to retain their own crops for replanting. The world’s leading food speakers see the garden as a self sustaining, self contained living being and the organic produce from ancient heirloom seeds as pure food.
The world’s largest seed bank of plant breeding for dry areas, ICARDA, located in Syria, sent 116,000 different seed varieties to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault before the fighting broke out in Syria and gunmen took over their Seed Bank headquarters. In September, 2015, ICARDA retrieved 38,073 seed varieties from its box at the Seed Vault to replant in carefully managed plots to grow and harvest fresh new seed for their farmers. This May, the melting of the polar icecap was much greater than expected due to climate change. The entrance hall to the Seed Vault was flooded. The water did not enter the well structured Vault, but now the Norwegian government is building drainage ditches on the mountainside and waterproof walls inside the tunnel entrance hall. Inside the mountain, the structure of the vault is safe and scientists are researching permafrost in Svalbard. If a nation’s seeds are lost as a result of a natural disaster or a man made catastrophe, the seeds saved in this Arctic Vault can be used to regenerate them.