‘Banking On The Future’ Seeds & Our Survival
Simply, it is a matter of survival -ours. And seeds are the lynch-pin, of it all
Nothing could be more important than the ready-supply of seeds. And, the seed vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply. A seed vault is a secured storage facility ensuring the safety and viability, of the world’s most important genetic resources. Seed vaults around the world, secure millions of seeds of every important crop variety available, world-wide. A secure supply of seeds, will offer options for future generations to overcome climate change and population growth. Our lives depend on it.
While there are many seed banks around the world (approximately 1000), perhaps the largest and most well-known, is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago. Svalbard is the farthest north a person can fly on a scheduled flight, offering a remote location that is still accessible. Spitsbergen was chosen because it has permafrost and lacks tectonic activity (moving of the earth’s crust). It is located 130 m (430’) above sea level, and at this elevation, even if the ice caps melt, the storage facility will remain dry.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the largest and most important in the world; it is nicknamed the Doomsday Vault as it is built into the side of a mountain, and is capable of withstanding bombings, earthquakes, and other disasters. And given that the vault is dug into permafrost and granite, even if the power fails, it is estimated that is will take 200 years before the facility warms to 0° C.
When seeds are deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, their legal ownership is not transferred. This means, that a depositor who chooses to store seeds in this seed vault, is still the owner of the seeds, and the only one who can withdraw them. The vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops. Each package consists of an average of 500 seeds, so a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds may be stored in this facility. The Svalbard vault holds the most diverse collection of food seeds in the world, and, therefore, is truly an international ‘treasure’, in every sense of the word.
A temperature of -18oC. is required for optimal storage of seeds. Permafrost and dense thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen even without power, and remain viable for at least 25 years. The seeds are vaccuum-sealed in custom-made 3-ply silver foil packages, which are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the vault. The low temperature and moisture levels inside the seed vault, ensure low metabolic activity, keeping seeds viable for long periods of time.
The Norwegian government entirely funded the construction costs of the Svalgard facility. And, the cost of storage is free to depositors from anywhere in the world, with no consideration made for politics, etc. While there are no permanent staff located at this facility, Norway and the Crop Trust pay for operational costs. As of June 2021, the seed vault had preserves of 1,081,026 distinct crop samples, representing more than 13,000 years of agricultural history.
While the world’s agricultural history is an old one, the industrialization of agriculture has made crops less genetically diverse (mostly due to monoculture), and therefore less able to adapt to changing surroundings, and complex ecosystems ...especially, as climate change becomes more-and-more of a threat. While crop yields have increased considerably over the decades, the biodiversity of crops has also decreased, considerably -and, therein lies the dilemma. The purpose of seed banks is to prevent plants from going extinct in the face of some natural calamity, and to preserve the ever-so-important ‘gene bank’ (genetic material).
In many instances, the seeds in these vaults exist nowhere else in the world. And, the genetic diversity contained in these vaults could provide the DNA traits required to develop new strains for whatever challenges that my be faced in the future. Seeds, are basically the basis for everything.
Paradoxically, individual seeds are their own ‘vaults’, capable of storing, preserving and protecting their own ‘secrets’ for survival, and all coded in DNA. Seeds have a built-in survival mechanism; it is called genetic recombination, and allows for mutations to occur. By way of chance mutations, and the process of natural selection, the ‘survival of the fittest’ ensures the long-term survival of the species. However, modern day society and farming practices, has largely eliminated this ‘natural process’ from occurring.
While there are 200,000 rice varieties in seed vaults, China is now using only 10% of the varieties that were grown 50 years ago. And, the U.S has lost over 90% of its fruit in vegetable varieties of 100 years ago. Now, a mere 30 different crops provide 95% of human food-energy needs, world-wide.
Seed banks store far more than seeds, they store ‘hope’ -hope in an uncertain world, and an uncertain future. By far, the ‘cheapest’ insurance money can buy. By far, our best bet. A bet, you can ‘bank’ on!