You wouldn’t expect the survival of the world food supply would depend on a hole in the ground 1,300 km from the North Pole.
Deep inside a mountain on the island of Spitsbergen, Norway is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The last line of defence in edible plant species protection. It is literally built to withstand natural or manmade disasters of all stripes, surrounding its precious contents with rock, solid steel and permafrost.
The purpose of the seed vault is to store duplicates of all seed samples from the world’s crop collections. Each sample is carefully packaged so that even if the power goes out the seed samples will remain safely frozen and viable for centuries to come. And like a safety deposit box at the bank, the seed stock remains to property of the depositor. While Norway owns the facility, and the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre and the Government of Norway manage the Vault, only the owners of the seeds themselves can make a withdrawal.
“The purpose of the seed vault is to store duplicates of all seed samples from the world’s crop collections.”
Scientists have been alarmed at the loss of crop diversity for decades, and the idea of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was first brought forward in the 1980’s. But it took the signing of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2004 to put a framework in place to allow for the conservation of seed diversity.
The Norwegian government covered construction of the underground facility, and since it doesn’t require anyone to stay permanently on-site, it only costs about $300,000 a year to operate. Nevertheless, it serves as an invaluable back-up plan should disasters, be they large or small, threaten the global food supply.