Thursday, June 22, 2006

Seed Vault - Banking Crop Diversity








With advances in agriculture and farming technologies, the common subject matter of those advances is the seeds themselves. What is sometimes not discussed, however, is the way in which crop diversity is influenced not only by the technologies deployed, but also by environmental catastrophes, cultural influences, and political events.

A new seed bank project in Norway is concerned with preserving the genetic diversity in the world's seeds. The Svalbard International Seed Vault, to be managed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, is to be housed in the permafrost and rock of the remote Svalbard peninsula, about 620 miles from the North Pole. The Trust and the Norwegian government have been working towards a global seed bank since 2004.

The bank will be contained in a reinforced concrete tunnel to be drilled into the rock of a mountain. The natural environment means that there is no need for reliance on artificial refrigeration systems (which can fail). And for even more protection, it is thought that Svalbard's polar bears will act as ready-made guards.

Speaking in a report by the Guardian Newspaper, London, Cary Fowler (Executive Secretary of the Trust) explained that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, decimate unique crops resulting in the irreversible loss of that genetic diversity: "You can use the word extinction in this case."

It has been suggested in some reports that the facility will run as a kind of bank, in an effort to mitigate concerns regarding national sovereignty over seeds stored in the vault.

Announced earlier this year, the 30 million kroner project was launched this week by the prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, and will start accepting "deposits" in 2007.

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