Historisk arkiv

Seeds of the world to be conserved on Svalbard

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Landbruks- og matdepartementet

The Norwegian Government is going to build a global vault for seeds on Svalbard. Seeds from the entire world will be put into frozen storage in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault so that crop diversity can be conserved for the future.

Press release

No.: 7
Date: 30.05.06

Contact: Grethe Helene Evjen telf. 22 24 93 11 / 41 25 41 88

Seeds of the world to be conserved on Svalbard

The Norwegian Government is going to build a global vault for seeds on Svalbard. Seeds from the entire world will be put into frozen storage in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault so that crop diversity can be conserved for the future.

“Norway will by this contribute to the global system for ensuring the diversity of food plants. A Noah’s Arc on Svalbard if you will,” says Minister of Agriculture and Food Terje Riis-Johansen.

Norway’s Prime Minister, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg will mark the start of the construction-process under the five nations’ meeting of Nordic Prime Ministers June 19 th on Svalbard.

Three ministries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF), have joined forces to provide NOK 30 million in funding for the seed vault. Responsibility for operating the seed vault will be vested in MAF.

“The plans for a seed vault in the permafrost on Svalbard have drawn international attention, both among scientists and the media. We are all interested in conserving biological diversity in agriculture, particularly crops that are of importance to the food supply. I think many countries will use the vault to improve their preparedness against plant diseases and other threats,” says Riis-Johansen.

Svalbard well suited
The seed vault will lie inside the mountain close to Longyearbyen and will house up to three million different types of seeds. Planning work started the autumn of 2005 and will continue throughout 2006. In early 2007, the Directorate of Public Construction and Property will commence construction and the preparations for the start-up of operations, with a view to opening the facility in September 2007.

Svalbard is viewed as well suited for the purpose because of its isolated location and permafrost that will ensure that the seeds are stored at freezing temperatures even if the refrigeration systems designed to maintain optimal temperature (-18 oC) should fail. The sturdy infrastructure will also ensure stable accessibility and operation.

Treaty for exchange of seeds
The idea for a seed vault dates back as early as the 1980s. Several international and Norwegian actors saw the need for a final back-up depository for seeds stored in existing gene banks. Not until 2001, after nearly 10 years of negotiations, did the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopt the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The treaty establishes common rules for access to crop diversity and aims at conservation, sustainable utilization and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of such resources. With this agreement in place, the idea of a seed bank on Svalbard resurfaced. In 2004, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR, sent an enquiry to Norway, encouraging the government to restudy the initiative.

Irreplaceable resources
Modern agriculture and food production require uniform crop plants and the same varieties are planted over increasingly larger spaces. Much of the diversity can therefore no longer be found in the fields.

The many gene banks found throug hout the world have therefore played an important role in conserving seeds from old varieties of food plants in agriculture and horticulture that otherwise would have disappeared.

“Gene banks can be affected by shutdowns, natural disasters, war or simply a lack of money. When genetic diversity is reduced it is irrevocable. We lose not only an important part of our cultural heritage and history, but we also reduce the ability of agriculture to meet new challenges relating to climate changes, population increase etc.,” says Terje Riis-Johansen.

Cross-border cooperation
The FAO Commission for Genetic Resources and other international actors are providing the Norwegian initiative with plenty of support. The physical storage facility will remain in Norwegian hands, but the seeds will not be Norwegian property. They are to be returned in case the original samples of the seed are lost.

There are plans to establish an international council that will represent user interests and follow operations.

The administrative responsibility for operating the vault will be placed in the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NGB), under the Nordic Council of Ministers. NGB is responsible for conservation and documentation of crops and their wild relatives from all of the Nordic countries and today has a smaller security storage for seeds in a closed mine on Svalbard.

The newly established Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT ) has signalled its willingness to help cover the developing countries’ costs for using such a facility and provide support for operation of the seed bank.

To the editors.:
Representatives of the media wishing to cover the ceremony on Svalbard on June 19 should contact the Ministry of Agriculture and Food:
Heidi Eriksen, +47 22 24 93 10/ + 47 975 17 227
E-mail: heidi.eriksen@lmd.dep.no