On the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault protects around 865,000 seed samples from all over the world. Most of those seeds are of staple crops. “There are nearly 160,000 samples of wheat, and approaching 150,000 samples of rice.” The Guardian also explains that “the site was built to be disaster-proof: 130 metres up the mountain in case of sea-level rise, earthquake resistant, and with a natural insulation of permafrost to ensure the contents were kept frozen for decades to come.”
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault’s mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional genebanks. While the popular press has emphasized its possible utility in the event of a major regional or global catastrophe, it will be more frequently accessed when genebanks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts, and natural disasters. These events occur with some regularity. War and civil strife have a history of destroying some genebanks. The national seed bank of the Philippines was damaged by flooding and later destroyed by a fire; the seed banks of Afghanistan and Iraq have been lost completely. According to The Economist, “the Svalbard vault is a backup for the world’s 1,750 seed banks, storehouses of agricultural biodiversity.”
From Crop Trust, take a 360 degree tour of the vault.
Watch this next: The Fungarium and Millennium Seed Bank Partnership at Kew.