Entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: "A Life Insurance We May Never Call"
Photo: Steffen Trumpf / dpa
The global seed vault on Spitsbergen is 15 years old.
To mark the anniversary, dozens of boxes of new seed samples that had arrived in the archipelago in the far north of Norway over the past few days were officially registered at Longyearbyen Airport on Sunday.
They are to be stored on Tuesday in the facility, which is unique in the world.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the northern Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen (Svalbard) near the town of Longyearbyen, has since its opening on February 26, 2008 become a kind of arctic »Noah's Ark for plant diversity«.
Seeds from around 6,000 plant species are stored deep-frozen there so that they can be used in the event of an emergency.
»Life insurance to feed the world«
"For us, Svalbard is a life insurance policy that we may never use," said Stefan Schmitz, the executive director of the Bonn-based World Trust Fund for Crop Diversity, or Crop Trust for short, to the German Press Agency.
"It's life insurance for feeding the world in the 21st century."
A total of 68 boxes with almost 20,000 new seed samples are to be brought into the vault on Tuesday.
Among them are around 2750 samples from the Leibniz Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben in Saxony-Anhalt - the largest gene bank in Germany - as well as a sample of wild strawberries, which the Julius Kühn Institute from Quedlinburg (Saxony-Anhalt) after Svalbard sent.
After the deposit, more than 1.2 million seed duplicates from nearly 100 gene banks will be deposited in the seed vault, operations coordinator Åsmund Asdal in Longyearbyen said.
The Seed Vault has capacity for 4.5 million samples.
Assistance during the civil war in Syria
Crop Trust is one of the three operators of the seed vault, along with the Norwegian government and the Nordic agricultural research institute NordGen.
The ultimate goal: to secure the plant diversity of the world and thus not least the food supply of mankind for the future.
"We collect seeds there and secure them in order to be prepared for all possible emergencies," said Schmitz.
For example in the Syrian civil war: The international research institute Icarda could no longer access its gene bank in Aleppo, but the institute had already had seeds from its collection stored in Svalbard in 2012.
"We were then able to send 116,000 seed samples to Icarda in Lebanon and Morocco, which were used to set up new units in those countries," said operations coordinator Asdal.
"Of course it's a sad story for Syria, but it's an excellent example of the importance of the seed vault."
Virtually all seed banks in the world can back up their stocks in Norway.
This time, for example, seeds from Benin, Africa, are included for the first time.
They are stored at minus 18 degrees in vacuum-packed aluminum bags, which are stowed away in boxes in three refrigerated chambers that are shielded from the outside world.