February 26, 2009

Four Tons Of New Seeds Added To Doomsday Vault

The "doomsday seed vault" in the Arctic Circle is celebrating its first anniversary with the arrival of nearly 90,000 food crop seed samples, BBC News reported.

After the four-ton shipment, more than 20 million seeds are now secure in the frozen repository.

The $7 million Svalbard Global Seed Vault was built over 12 months some 426 feet inside a mountain, with the ultimate goal of protecting the world's food crop species against natural and human disasters. The facility opened in February of last year.

Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), said the vault was opened to ensure that all of humanity's existing food crop varieties would be safely protected.

"It's amazing how far we have come towards accomplishing that goal."

During its first year of operation, the vault has so far received duplicates of nearly half of the crop samples maintained by the genebanks of the international agricultural research centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The vault, located near the village of Longyearbyen on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, is now storing a third of the planet's most important food crop varieties.

Some 32 varieties of potatoes from Ireland's national gene banks are just some of the new arrivals to the facility.

When blight wiped out the nation's potato harvests in the mid-1800s, the lack of diversity among Ireland's potato crops was believed to have caused the deaths of more than one million people.

A partnership between the GCDT and the Norwegian government now stores duplicates of seeds from national collections inside the vault, acting as a fail-safe backup if the original collections are lost or damaged.

Norway's Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk said they are especially proud to see such a large number of countries working quickly to provide samples from their collections for safekeeping in the vault.

"It shows that there are situations in the world today capable of transcending politics and inspiring a strong unity of purpose among a diverse community of nations."

Additionally, experts on climate change and food production have gathered in Longyearbyen for a three-day anniversary conference to examine how climate change threatens global food production, and how crop diversity will improve food security for people in regions that are going to be worst affected.

"When we see research indicating that global warming could diminish maize production by 30% in southern Africa in only 20 years' time, it shows that crop diversity is needed to adapt agriculture to climate change right now," said Frank Loy, an environment adviser to President Obama.


Image Caption: Entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Courtesy Mari Tefre, Global Crop Diversity Trust


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