Flax seeds came from the Leibnitz Institute in Germany, while emmer wheat came from the University of Haifa in Israel. Colombia's International Center for Tropical Agriculture sent peas and beans, Mexico sent corn, Thailand sent rice, and Sudan sent sesame, all seeds to protect in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
"As the pace of climate change and biodiversity loss increases, there is a new urgency surrounding efforts to save food crops at risk of extinction," said Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the organization based in Bonn who has spearheaded the project to save the earth's plant and food species since 2008.
On Tuesday of this week, it received new seeds from 35 genebanks located on each continent.
The underground vault in Svalbard, a Norwegian island territory in the Arctic Ocean, has the capacity to store 4.5 million samples and currently holds one million. In total, that equates to room for 2.25 billion individual seeds.
The vault was remodeled in 2019 to end its own vulnerabilities to rising sea levels and weather-related factors, but it remains the safest place on earth to protect the future of food. It is built on a mountain in a place where earthquakes rarely occur, the humidity stays low and the permafrost keeps the seeds frozen. It is also the northernmost point on the planet easily accessible by air transport, but still remote enough to isolate it.
The Tuesday additions to the collection represent a growing global commitment to crop conservation and diversity that will allow farmers to adapt to changing climates and growing conditions, Schmitz said. His organization works with the Government of Norway and the Nordic Center for Genetic Resources (NordGen) to maintain the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was present at the seed deposit ceremony, as was President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana. Other guests included the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, the local governor of a region in northern Nigeria where its indigenous culture and religion is protected. The emir proudly wore his traditional garb some 1,300km above the Arctic Circle, despite being used to a more tropical climate.
Solberg and Akufo Addo served as co-chairs of a "Seed Summit" held in conjunction with the deposit, which follows Norway's 20 million euro improvements to what is sometimes called the "vault of the end of the world." That is a reference to the fact that no matter what catastrophic events happen on the planet, the seeds will be there to support the continuity of the human community.
The conference focused on exactly that: how the vault works to keep seeds safe and how they can help adapt the world's food systems to climate change, all in order to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition in line with The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
"The seed vault is the best insurance policy for the food supply in the world," said Schmitz. "Today's Seed Summit and the seed vault are extremely important to global food security."