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Global Seed Vault Opens Door to 100 Million Seeds

10 March 2008

Wangari Maathai wraps upThe Svalbard Global Seed Vault has opened on a remote island in the Arctic Circle, with the inaugural shipments of 100 million seeds that originated in over 100 countries.

Wangari Maathai traveled from her troubled home in Kenya to the Arctic circle to place the first seeds in the vault, nicknamed the ‘Doomsday Vault’ which aims to preserve the biodiversity of the world’s crops against potential catastrophic events.

Wangari Maathai opened the vault alongside the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg. The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and a host of dignitaries and agriculture experts from around the globe deposited seeds during the ceremony held 130 metres deep inside a frozen mountain.

“The significant public interest in the seed vault project indicates that collectively we are changing the way we think about environmental conservation. We now understand that along with international movements to save endangered species and the rain forests of the world, it is just as important for us to conserve the diversity of the world’s crops for future generations,” Maathai said.

Built near the village of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen, the vault at its inception contains 268,000 distinct samples of seeds—each one originating from a different farm or field in the world – and ranging from varieties of major African and Asian staples such as maize and rice to European and South American varieties of eggplant and potato. The first deposits into the seed vault represent the most comprehensive and diverse collection of food crop seeds being held anywhere in the world.

The seed vault which has been funded by the Norwegian government is part of an unprecedented effort to protect the planet’s rapidly diminishing biodiversity by acting as a safety net for the global system of seed banks.

The diversity of our crops is essential for food production, yet it is being lost. This facility, dug deep into the frozen rock of an Arctic mountain, and sustaining a temperature of -18˚C, will secure for centuries, or longer, hundreds of millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today.

The frozen location for the world's crop security  

 The seed vault in the frozen wastes of Svalbard
Images courtesy Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed Vault

s well as protecting against the daily loss of diversity, the vault could also prove indispensable for restarting agricultural production at the regional or global level in the wake of a natural or man-made disaster. Contingencies for climate change have been worked into the plan. Even in the worst-case scenarios of global warming, the vault rooms will remain naturally frozen for up to 200 years.

“With climate change and other forces threatening the diversity of life that sustains our planet, Norway is proud to be playing a central role in creating a facility capable of protecting what are not just seeds, but the fundamental building blocks of human civilization,” said Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

“Crop diversity will soon prove to be our most potent and indispensable resource for addressing climate change, water and energy supply constraints, and for meeting the food needs of a growing population,” said Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.  

Wangari Maathai is Vice Chair of The Global Crop Diversity Trust which is providing key support for the ongoing operations of the seed vault, as well as organizing and funding the preparation and shipment of seeds from developing countries to the facility.

View video of the Opening Ceremony 

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