Seeds, Syria & Svalbard – The World Seed Vault
“Acceptance makes an incredible fertile soil for the seeds of change.” ― Steve Marboli
What happens when war or famine occurs and destroys the plants and land in a country? Without seeds to rebuild the food sources for countries devastated, life cannot exist. I wanted to share with you how a seed vault in the most northern town in the world has been vital to the agricultural survival of a country like Syria.
1300 kilometers beyond the Arctic Circle in Svalbard, Norway, exists the Global Seed Vault which contains the world’s largest collection of crop seeds. The purpose of the Seed Vault is to “provide insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity held in traditional seed banks in the world”. It is also referred to as the “Doomsday Vault” by many.
Svalbard was selected for its cold climate which makes it ideal for cold storage, low radiation and structurally sound sandstone ideal for building. There is infrastructure nearby to ensure maintenance of the vault as well as daily flights and a close knit community of residents. Opened in 2008, the seed vault operates much like a safe deposit box, whereby the government who deposits the seeds retains full ownership of them and has sole access to them.
The vault has the ability to store 4.5 million seed samples and there are no genetically modified seeds permitted due to Norwegian laws that were put into effect prior to the vault being constructed. The cost to build the vault was $9 million USD and primary finding for the seed trust comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and various governments. It has been designed to withstand bombs, natural disasters, and attacks by utilizing the latest security technology
Interestingly enough, there actually existed a seed center in Aleppo, Syria, which focused on crops that grow in dry areas and was named “ICARDA” (International Center for Agriculture Research in Dry Areas). In 2011, Syrian officials were asked if they would be interested in placing some of their seeds into the new seed bank, and at first they rejected the idea since they had their own seed bank and civil unrest had not moved into Syria at that time. However, just before the violent conflict broke out in Syria, government seeds were transported from the Aleppo Seed Center to the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard for safe-keeping. Eventually, the seed bank permanently closed in Aleppo as Syria became embroiled in the violent unrest in the Middle East.
In 2015 Syria withdrew some seeds from the Svalbard Seed Vault to grow new food sources and plant life in their country. During this same year, the ICARDA was re-established in Morocco and Lebanon. Just last week, the seeds from 49,000 varieties of crops including lentils, wheat and others were returned back to the Svalbard Seed Vault from Syria – some of which were the descendants of seeds that were removed in 2015 to res-establish crops in Syria!
It is certainly frightening to think of what might have happened had those seeds not been stored in the seed vault in the Arctic Circle, and the importance of being able to protect our crops for our future generations. You will likely never look at a package of seeds at Home Depot the same now.
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