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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Svalbard Global Seed Vault,Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT),Nordic Gene Bank,Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NORDGEN)

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure seedbank located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near the town of Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago. The facility was established to preserve a wide variety of plant seeds from locations worldwide in an underground cavern. The Seed Vault holds duplicate samples, or "spare" copies, of seeds held in genebanks worldwide. The Seed Vault will provide insurance against the loss of seeds in genebanks, as well as a refuge for seeds in the case of large scale regional or global crises. The island of Spitsbergen is about 1,120 kilometres (700 mi) from the North Pole.

The Seed Vault is managed under terms spelled out in a tripartite agreement between the Norwegian government, the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (previously named the Nordic Gene Bank, a cooperative effort of the Nordic countries under the Nordic Council of Ministers).

The GCDT has played a key role in the planning of the Seed Vault and is coordinating shipments of seed samples to the Vault in conjunction with the Nordic Genetic Resource Center. The Trust will provide most of the annual operating costs for the facility, and has set aside endowment funds to do so, while the Norwegian government will finance upkeep of the structure itself. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors, the GCDT is assisting selected genebanks in developing countries as well as the international agricultural research centers in packaging and shipping seeds to the Seed Vault. An International Advisory Council is being established to provide guidance and advice. It will include representatives from the FAO, the CGIAR, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources and other institutions.

Construction of the Seed Vault, which cost approximately 45 million Norwegian Kroner ($9 million), was funded entirely by the Government of Norway. Storage of seeds in the Seed Vault is free of charge. Operational costs will be paid by Norway and the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The primary funders of the Trust are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, Switzerland and Sweden, though funding has been received from a wide variety of sources including four developing countries: Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and India.


The Nordic Gene Bank has stored a backup of Nordic plant germplasm as frozen seeds in an abandoned coal mine at Svalbard since 1984. The Nordic Gene Bank (NGB) has deposited more than 10,000 seed samples of more than 2,000 cultivars of 300 different species over the years. In addition, seed samples from southern Africa (SADC) have been safely duplicated with the Nordic collection for some years. Both the Nordic and African collections are expected be transferred to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the future. Since January 1, 2008 the Nordic Gene Bank is an integrated part of the newly formed Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NORDGEN).


The prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland participated in a ceremonial "laying of the first stone" on 19 June 2006.

The seedbank is constructed 120 metres (390 ft) inside a sandstone mountain at Svalbard on Spitsbergen Island. The bank employs a number of robust security systems. Seeds are packaged in special four-ply packets and heat sealed to exclude moisture. The facility is managed by the Nordic Genetic Resource Center, though there are no permanent staff on-site.

Spitsbergen was considered ideal due to its lack of tectonic activity and its permafrost, which will aid preservation. The location 130 metres (430 ft) above sea level will ensure that the site remains dry even if the icecaps melt. Locally mined coal provides power for refrigeration units that further cool the seeds to the internationally-recommended standard −18 °C (−0 °F). Even if the equipment fails, at least several weeks will elapse before the temperature rises to the −3 °C (30 °F) of the surrounding sandstone bedrock.

Prior to construction, a feasibility study determined that the vault could preserve seeds from most major food crops for hundreds of years. Some seeds, including those of important grains, could survive far longer, possibly thousands of years.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened officially on February 26, 2008. Approximately 1.5 million distinct seed samples of agricultural crops are thought to exist. The variety and volume of seeds stored will depend on the number of countries participating – the facility has a capacity to conserve 4.5 million. The first seeds arrived in January 2008. Five percent of the seeds in the Vault, about 18,000 samples with 500 seeds each, come from the Centre for Genetic Resources of the Netherlands (CGN), part of Wageningen University, Netherlands.


The Svalbard Global Seed Vault's mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional genebanks. While the popular press has emphasized its possible utility in the event of a major regional or global catastrophe, it will certainly be more frequently accessed when genebanks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts and natural disasters. Such events occur with some regularity. In recent years, some national genebanks have also been destroyed by war and civil strife. There are some 1,400 crop diversity collections around the world, but many are in politically unstable or environmentally threatened nations.

Access to seeds

The seed samples stored in the Seed Vault are copies of samples stored in the depositing genebanks. Researchers, plant breeders and other groups wishing to access seed samples cannot do so through the Seed Vault; instead they must request samples from the depositing genebanks. The samples stored in the genebanks will, in most cases, be accessible in accordance with the terms and conditions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, approved by 118 countries/Parties.

The Seed Vault functions like a safety deposit box in a bank. The bank owns the building and the depositor owns the contents of his or her box. The Government of Norway owns the facility and the depositing genebanks own the seeds they send. The deposit of samples in Svalbard does not constitute a legal transfer of genetic resources. In genebank terminology this is called a "black box" arrangement. Each depositor signs a Deposit Agreement with NORDGEN, acting on behalf of Norway. The Agreement makes clear that Norway does not claim ownership over the deposited samples and that ownership remains with the depositor, who has the sole right of access to those materials in the Seed Vault. No one has access to anyone else’s seeds from the Seed Vault.


It has been alleged that there has been some controversy over private involvement in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. In fact, the Vault was unanimously welcomed at the United Nations when proposed by Norway. The Government of Norway funded the construction of the Vault in its entirety and will continue to fund its maintenance. The Global Crop Diversity Trust funds the operation and management of the facility, and has funded the transport of seeds from genebanks in developing countries and from international genebanks to the Arctic. For the first three years of the Vault’s existence, the transport of seeds from international collections and developing countries has been made possible through a partnership between the Trust and the United Nations Foundation funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

All seeds stored in the Seed Vault remain the property of the country or institution that sent them. There is no change of ownership. Neither the managers of the Seed Vault, Norway, the Trust, nor anyone else has any right even to open the boxes in which the seeds arrive and are stored. Seeds are available only to the depositors to restore samples they have lost themselves. Information about which countries have sent seeds, and the seeds which are already stored in the Vault, is all public. For a list of depositors to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, see the Seed Vault online database managed by NORDGEN. For the complete list of donors to the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

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