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SVALBARD GLOBAL SEED VAULT CELEBRATES 10 YEARS of safeguarding the future of our food

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault first opened its doors in February 2008, as a backup facility for the world’s seed banks. Now, 10 years later, the Seed Vault has received over 1 million unique crop varieties, and safeguards roughly half of the crop varieties held in all of the world’s seed banks.

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an iconic reminder of the remarkable conservation effort that is taking place every day, around the world and around the clock – an effort to conserve the seeds of our food crops," says Marie Haga, Executive Director, Crop Trust. "Safeguarding such a huge range of seeds means scientists will have the best chance of developing nutritious and climate-resilient crops that can ensure future generations don’t just survive, but thrive."

Contents

  • The Vault at a Glance
  • The Coolest Moments Across the Decade (literally!)
  • Key Numbers
  • Memorable Visitors
  • The 10th Anniversary Deposit
The Vault at a Glance (as of 26 February 2018)
Unique crop varieties sent to the Seed Vault over the last decade (excluding withdrawals): 1,059,646
Unique crop varieties currently stored in the Seed Vault: 967,216
Total number of depositors: 74
Number of species conserved: 5,384

Our Favorite Moments Across 10 Years

2007

The Norwegian government reveals the architectural design for the Seed Vault.
Construction begins in March 2007.
The Seed Vault is completed in September, 2007.

2008

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault officially opens on 26 February, 2008.
During the first year of operation, 320,549 seed samples from 22 seed banks are deposited.
CIAT made its first deposit in 2008 of beans and tropical forages. Now, CIAT has backed up over 90% of its entire collection.

2009

Four tons of seeds – almost 90,000 samples of hundreds of crop species are delivered, as the Seed Vault celebrates its one-year anniversary.

2010

Throughout 2010, a series of interesting deposits are made:

USDA deposits a wild strawberry species, discovered after a three-day trek through a bear-infested wilderness to the Atsunupuri Volcano, which is located on a remote chain of islands in the Russian territory of Sakhalin.
The Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Pyongyang, North Korea deposits 3,000 samples of maize and rice.
Seed Savers Exchange deposits the German Pink tomato, a rare variety transported to Iowa in 1883 by a Bavarian immigrant who is the grandfather of one of the co-founders of Seed Savers Exchange.

2011

In 2011, the Vault welcomed 10 new depositors - Australia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru and the United States of America.

A Peruvian desert lima bean variety on the verge of extinction is rescued by CIAT and sent for safekeeping to the Seed Vault.

2012

The number of seed samples deposited mounts to 772,597, and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is now the world’s largest repository of seeds for food and agriculture.

Nine new depositors from Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Portugal, Burundi, Mali, Georgia, Philippines and Armenia make deposits in 2012.

Tajikistan deposits wheat and barley collected from the country's remote Pamir Mountains—one of the highest ranges on the planet, often called the “Roof of the World.” The seeds are the first from the former Soviet Republic to be deposited in Svalbard.

2013

Thailand deposits 81 varieties of rice. The number 81 was chosen in order to celebrate Her Majesty Queen Sirikit's 81st Birthday Anniversary.

The film The Back-up Copy is released:

2014

Japan (Okayama University, pictured here) and Bulgaria make their first deposits.
Seed Savers Exchange deposits “Rox Orange” sorghum, a variety that was developed in the first half of the 20th century specifically for making syrup.

2015

The first retrieval is made from the Seed Vault by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA):

ICARDA withdraws a portion of its seeds, as its seed bank in Aleppo, Syria is unable to operate due to civil conflict. 38,073 samples were returned in order to re-establish its research and conservation work at new sites in Lebanon and Morocco.

Representatives of indigenous Andean communities from the Parque de la Papa in Cusco, Peru, deposited 750 potato seeds.

2016

New Zealand makes its first deposit to the Seed Vault!

The ryegrass and white clover seeds deposited from New Zealand make up much of the feedstock for the country’s 60 million sheep, and the crops they produce have been worth an estimated NZD 20 billion to the nation’s national economy over the last 50 years.
Thailand deposits the Grand Father Sumet Chili Pepper, which was named by the Princess in honour of the Secretary-General of a Thai genebank, who recently became a grandfather.

2017

GoPro for a Cause launched a fundraising initiative and short documentary to help the Seed Vault ensure ongoing crop conservation:

CIAT deposits a nearly extinct wild bean, the Bermuda bean, which shows wind-resilience and has evolved a vigorous root system that makes it more resilient to tropical storms.

The Seed Vault in Numbers

Depositors by Continent

  • Europe: 24
  • Asia: 20
  • Africa: 12
  • South America: 9
  • North America: 5
  • Australia/Oceania: 3

Deposits by Institute Type

  • International: 563,987
  • National: 292,778
  • Regional: 25,746
  • University: 8,731
  • NGO: 4,062
  • Private: 7

Deposits by Country of Origin

  • Mexico: 140,314 samples deposited by 34 institutions
  • India: 69,984 deposited by 35 institutions
  • United States: 41,384 samples deposited by 39 institutions
  • China: 27,021 deposited by 30 institutions
  • Ethiopia: 22,422 deposited by 30 institutions
  • South Korea: 19,810 deposited by 20 institutions

International Genebanks with the Largest Number of Deposits

National & Regional Genebanks with the Largest Number of Deposits

Memorable Visitors

Over the last decade, many memorable faces have visited the Seed Vault to raise awareness about the incredible conservation work going on around the clock and the need to have a global back-up facility to safeguard this precious material for the future.

1) February 2008: Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, joins other VIPs at the opening of the Seed Vault. 2) July 2008: Former US President, Jimmy Carter, visits with a trip organized by the National Geographic Society 3) September 2009: UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, visits. 4) July 2010: Seven-person bipartisan delegation from the US Congress deposit seeds from the USDA genebank. 5) March 2013: Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand makes special seed deposit. 6) March 2015: German Parliamentary State Secretary, Peter Bleser, pays a vist. 7) August 2015: José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and Hanne Maren Blaafjelldal, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, join representatives of indigenous Andean communities from Parque de la Papa. 8) February 2018: American businesswoman, writer, and television personality, Martha Stewart pays tribute to the little things: seeds.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will mark its 10th anniversary on Monday, 26 February 2018, by receiving shipments of over 70,000 crop varieties at the storage facility in Norway.
23 Depositors (the most ever to deposit at one time) will brave sub-zero temperatures to deliver duplicate seeds of vital staples like rice, wheat and maize, to the Vault, as well as other important crops like black-eyed pea (cowpea), a major protein source in Africa and South Asia, sorghum, pearl millet, pigeon pea and more.

While the Seed Vault is a truly magnificent and innovative mechanism for long-term conservation efforts, it is the genebanks that send their seeds to the Seed Vault for long-term safekeeping that are the champions of this work and should be celebrated on this special birthday.

Meet the Depositors

Agroscope in Switzerland deposits 719 samples, including wheat, oats, barley, spelt, rye, wheat, Clary sage and Italian parsley. Agroscope says: "It is a good feeling to know that the accessions of our genebank are in safe place. It is great to be part of such a great global collective effort.”
The Australian Grains Genebank in Australia deposits over 9,200 grains accessions from cultivated, landrace and wild species, which includes material from the early 1900’s to current day varieties growing in farmers’ fields. “Making a deposit in 2013 was almost overwhelming for me," said Dr. Sally Norton, Head of the Australian Grains Genebank. "Standing in the Vault and being surrounded by some of the most important germplasm that underpins human survival is very thought provoking.”
CATIE in Costa Rica deposits 591 samples of 29 different crops including pumpkin, maize (corn), bean and tomato. This is the largest vault deposit CATIE has made to date.
CIAT in Colombia deposits four of the five edible species from Phaseolus, including a hybrid and a wild species. Pictured here, the "year-bean," has big 'wings' for pollinators to land.
CIP in Peru was included in the first ever deposit to the Seed Vault back in 2008, pictured above. Today, they deposit 94 samples of tuber crops, including a wild potato species, Solanum albicans. When this species was collected in northern Peru, the collectors were mistaken for cattle thieves, called “abigeos” and were kidnapped by the local people. Fortunately the potato curator from CIP, spoke the local language Quechua and was able to explain why they were collecting wild potato species. The Andean community believed that the curator, Alberto, was their common descendent from Atahualpa Inca, and the crew was let go, allowing the deposit you see today.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in Ireland deposits 296 samples, including a variety of grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass & couch grass, as well as other crops like bittercress, barley, oats, wild carrot, & more. "DAFM takes its responsibility for the conservation of native PGRFA very seriously. We fully support the work of the Crop Trust and are very proud to have been invited to participate in this 10 year anniversary event," says Genebank Representative, Brian O'Connor.
The Estonian Crop Research Institute (ECRI) in Estonia deposits 132 samples of forage grasses and legumes collected from Estonian grasslands, varieties of vegetables, barley and wheat varieties. ECRI says: "To become a part of this global activity and to participate on the preservation of genetic heritage of agricultural crops is a great honor, challenge and responsibility."
ICARDA, the first institution to ever make a withdrawal from the Seed Vault, deposits 8,647 samples that have been regenerated at ICARDA's research stations in Lebanon and Morocco.
ICRAF in Kenya deposits 318 samples, including White Thorn Acacia (a commercial source of gum, which has a good reputation for repelling snakes and crocodiles and is used locally as a medicine and source of materials), as well as umbrella thorn, calotropis fibre, various fodder species and more. "ICRAF feels honoured to be among the institutions spearheading the conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, specifically the first institution to make a deposit for tropical tree species," says Alice Muchugi, ICRAF Genebank Manager.
ICRISAT in India deposits 355 samples of sorghum, pearl millet, pigeon pea, groundnut, finger millet, proso millet, little millet and barnyard millet. These accessions originate from 55 countries. "Safeguarding the global germplasm collections at the Seed Vault is an international effort, and the ICRISAT genebank team feels honoured to be part of this important safety back-up process," says Hari D Upadhyaya, ICRISAT Genebank Manager. "The role of the Crop Trust and NBPGR, India, is much appreciated in the safe movement of germplasm over the years.”
IITA in Nigeria deposits 1,530 samples of winged bean, cowpea, Bambara groundnut and African yambean. Cowpea is one of the most important crops in sub-Saharan Africa and is indigenous to the region. The Genetic Resources Centre of IITA contains more than 16,000 accessions and is by far the largest collection in the world. Michael Abberton, IITA Genebank Manager says: "We have nearly backed-up 100% of our cowpea collection in Svalbard - a significant milestone.”
INIA in Chile deposits 103 samples, including a winter wheat cultivar with high yield potential (which happens to be the most planted cultivar in Chile) and Pandora, a spring wheat cultivar with high yield potential (and the most planted spring wheat cultivar in Chile).
INIAV in Portugal deposits 217 samples of maize varieties collected during the seventies in Portugal. They are mostly landraces, obtained by the selection of Portuguese farmers in several regions of the country.
IPK in Germany deposits 5,556 samples of pea, barley and lentils.
IRRI in the Philippines deposits 3,433 rice varieties. IRRI has over 95% of its collection backed up inside the Seed Vault.
Margot Forde Germplasm Centre in New Zealand deposits 512 samples of Wild forage legumes and grasses. Pictured above is Margot herself. Kioumars Ghamkhar, Director of the Margot Forde Forage Germplasm Centre says: "I’m sure that if Margot was still with us today she would be very pleased that the material she collected in the field in the 1980’s was now safely stored at Svalbard Global Seed Vault and that international collaboration on the conservation of the world’s plant genetic resources has moved forward in such a positive manner."
NordGen, who is responsible for the operation of the Seed Vault, deposits 1,307 samples of Nordic Cereals, vegetables and forage crops.
Plant Gene Resources of Canada deposits 2,517 samples of cultivated plants and crop wild relatives.
Seed Savers Exchange deposits 242 samples of rare, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds from its Heritage Farm headquarters in Decorah. Lee Buttala, Executive Director of Seed Savers Exchange said: “We work hard to save seeds shared with us in our gardens, with other gardeners, and in our own seed bank at Heritage Farm. But we also know that historically varieties have been lost in unexpected ways, and Svalbard offers added insurance to us and more than 1,500 other seed banks around the world that this valued germplasm is backed up should such an unexpected event occur.”
The Australian Pastures Genebank (PIRSA-SARDI) deposits 25,567 samples of Australian temperate and tropical pastures and forages from 146 countries. Included in the deposit are over 1,000 accessions of Australian native species of grasses (e.g. Kangaroo grass), herbs and forage shrubs (e.g. salt bush) that are the backbone of the Australian pastoral district and marginal country. Steven Hughes, APG Genebank Manager says: "The APG underpins Australia’s agricultural productivity, and it is reassuring that this valuable genetic material to agriculture and food security is now safely duplicated and secured in the Seed Vault and will be available for future generations.”
USDA deposits 12,723 samples, including wheat, barley and soybeans (which make up 60% of the shipment). The United States now has 20% of its seed germplasm collection stored at Svalbard.
World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) in Taiwan deposits 1,004 samples, including okra, amaranth, spider plant, scarlet gourds, loofah, cucumber, pumpkin, adzuki bean, rice bean and more. "We take our stewardship of this precious resource very seriously," says Maarten van Zonneveld, WorldVeg Genebank Manager. "By placing duplicates of the seed in the WorldVeg collection in other genebanks and in the long-term storage at Svalbard, we can help ensure its safety, now and in the future.”
AfricaRice in Benin deposits 861 important rice varieties.

A special message from Crop Trust Board Chair, Tim Fischer

“The 10th anniversary is a major milestone for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” said Jon Georg Dale, Minister of Agriculture for the Norwegian government, which jointly runs the facility with the Crop Trust and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen). “It comes at a time when agriculture is facing multiple challenges from extreme weather and the demands of a world population expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050. This means it is more important than ever to ensure that seeds –the foundation of our food supply and the future of our agriculture – are safely conserved.”

Learn more about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and stay up to date on global conservation efforts by visiting our website!

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the largest collection of crop diversity in the world. Located in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the Seed Vault is owned by the Norwegian Government and operated under a three-party agreement between the Norwegian Government, NordGen and the Crop Trust. Depositors to the Seed Vault still own the samples that they deposit and only they can retrieve the material if required.

Credits:

Created by the Crop Trust with images by ernschie - "field agriculture farm" • Lusign - "germany map republic travel europe geography germany"

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