In my first blog, I talked about the basic ideas of the Svalbard Seed Vault and the purpose of it. But how was it established?
To begin with, let me introduce Crop Trust.
“The Crop Trust is an international organization working to safeguard crop diversity, forever.”MARIE HAGA
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CROP TRUST (Annual Report 2014 | Crop Trust, 2016)
In 2008 Crop Trust in partnership with the Norwegian government and NordGen, worked together to open the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Crop Trust want to preserve the variety of food crops that are found in our world, and “help develop a new generation of information technologies to make the world’s crop diversity searchable and accessible wherever it is needed.”(Trust, 2015)
So why is what they do, so important to us?
Svalbard Seed Vault is the back-up to other gene banks located around the world.
Gene banks are important for agricultural preservation by providing breeders, farmers and scientists with multiple varieties of seeds to expand crop growth and yields faced with climate change. They also allow us to be able to study the inner workings of the natural world in a more advanced way.
Let me tell you a few more reasons why it’s such a fantastic idea.
In these gene-banks, there is usually more than one type of each seed. As an example, there are several different kinds of potato genes (a vital crop) in storage rather than just the one. If a disease was to evolve and target a major food species of, for an example, tuber (found in potatoes), then is it possible that a lesser-known species could serve as a suitable replacement or contain essential genetic information to engineer a resistant species (wiseGEEK, 2016).
Aside from plants providing us with food, they can also be used in medications. Gene banking provides the opportunity to be prepared for unknown diseases by preserving plants that could one day be essential in developing new medicines (wiseGEEK, 2016).
Gene banks also help to protect global biodiversity as there are many plant species from around the world that are kept in storage that are listed as endangered.
Natural disasters can cause significant effects on agriculture, harming the variability and availability of crops. In 2004, a tsunami swept through Malaysia and Sri Lanka, destroying all their rice paddy fields. (Also the well known potato famine in Ireland.)
With the help of international seed banks, the farmers that were affected were able to be provided with several varieties of rice to begin their crop farming again.
Man-made disasters pose risks to crops as well. The war in Syria is a prime example of a man-made disaster and how important these gene banks are.
“The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has requested the backup seed that they deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to restart their collection away from the horrors of the Syrian Civil War (Trust, 2015). Without these gene banks and the Svalbard seed backup, Syria would’ve been in a detrimental position. (The seeds aren’t actually going back into the country, but to a safer location close to the boarders.)
Seed banks are a vital for future generations as insurance against catastrophic events.
There are over 1,400 gene/seed banks worldwide, here’s a list of some of the better known banks.
Annual Report 2014 | Crop Trust. (2016). Annual Report 2014 | Crop Trust. [online] Available at: https://www.croptrust.org/2014/home [Accessed 20 Apr. 2016].
Trust, T. (2015). What we do – Crop Trust. [online] Crop Trust. Available at: https://www.croptrust.org/what-we-do/ [Accessed 28 Apr. 2016].
wiseGEEK. (2016). What is a Tuber? (with pictures). [online] Available at: http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-tuber.htm [Accessed 3 May 2016].
HowStuffWorks. (2008). How Gene Banks Work. [online] Available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/genetic/gene-bank.htm [Accessed 3 May 2016].