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6 Fun Facts: The Svalbard Seed Vault

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The Svalbard seed vault is like a Noah’s Ark- it is a way of ensuring that crops (and seeds that give rise to them) that sustain us will not be lost should doomsday strike. The seed vault has captured the imagination of the public in recent years. In this article, we will discuss some of the most important facts about the seed vault and why it came into existence in the first place:

Six Fun Facts about the Svalbard Seed Bank

  1. The Svalbard seed bank is aptly named the Doomsday seed vault.
  2. On the lighter side, considering its location and security details, it is the perfect backdrop for a James Bond movie; the seeds are preserved deep inside the mountain near the North Pole. The vault is designed to survive any global catastrophe- nuclear war, gene modification or gene pollution. It is the location of an abandoned coal mine that is nearly 135 meters above the fjord below-so it is safe from rising sea waters should global warming cause them to increase.
  3. The vault was first opened in February 2008. The seed sample count inside the vault currently stands at 770,000 samples. Each sample has 500 seeds, so the total number of seeds in the vault can be estimated to be about 400 million.
  4. The vault cost nearly 9million USD to create with ongoing maintenance costs of approximately 100,000 USD annually.
  5. The Syrian Civil war prompted the vault to be opened for the first time in 2015 since its opening in 2008. (This fact is not fun, but it is interesting.  More info here.)
  6. The Svalbard seed vault naturally cannot protect everything: crops like bananas do not have seeds. Also, crops like coconuts etc cannot be preserved by drying and freezing.

Why is seed diversity preservation and plant breeding necessary?

Seed preservation was first considered in 1920s when scientists realized the importance of assembling complete diversity of each crop before their distinct varieties were lost. If seeds are lost, agriculture will fail. Seed diversity helps guarantee successful harvest and also satisfy the human need for variety. Consumers need variety in their recipes (we need tomatoes for salads but a different variety of tomatoes for making sauces. Likewise, we need two different varieties of wheat for making pastas and breads). Farmers too need seed diversity for meeting these consumer demands and also ensuring that different varieties of same seeds withstand different environmental conditions.

Plant breeders are therefore known to create variety upon variety for each seed. Take the example of wheat; a single type of wheat has hundreds of pedigrees that, which typed in small print on paper, could run for 6 meters. If records are to be believed-there are 200,000 types of wheat, 30,000 types of corn, 47,000 types of sorghum and 15,000 varieties of groundnuts!

Why is there a need of a single seed bank, if nations already have national seed banks?

Many nations first started out by having their own seed banks realizing the importance of seed diversity and preservation. A great deal of funding however became a necessity for closely guarding these seed banks, something which most nations fail to have. This is the main reason why, many of the national seed banks languished and the gene diversity in their care deteriorated. Secondly self funded national interests did not get adequate international support, mainly because each national seed bank was acting in the self interest of the individual nation. As a result, plan B in the form of the Svalbard seed vault became a necessity.

There are many heroes in this story-farmers, plant breeders and maintenance personnel who should be thanked for their efforts of creating seed shipments and documenting the seeds.

READ PART 2 of this story

If you are passionate about seed freedom and diversity, check out our "Seed Freedom" organic cotton t-shirt and you can help educate others!


8 Comment

  • I hope mankind is never dependent on that seed vault. Being in thrall to Monsanto and its satellite seed company for the right to grow food, will be the end of food freedom and independence. Taking out rights on native plants is not in our interests.

  • Hello, I have been reading here and elsewhere that Monsanto en Bill Gates are co-founder of the Seed Vault on Svalbard/Spitsbergen. Is tht true and where can I verify that. I am interested in this subject. I want to know more. Thank you.

  • Thank you for the great questions. We are working on a follow-up blog post to answer all of your questions!

    We Add Up
  • Debbie, Monsanto is a co-founder of the Svalbard Seed Bank, along with Bill Gates, Rockefeller and a few other “minor” personalities that I’m sure they won’t make the interest of the public, should a doomsday arrive. But who would really, in such a case?

    Pippi Di Papi
  • How many of these seeds are GMO? Who owns the patent rights if they are? Who is in charge of controlling who gets seeds in the event of such a catastrophic event? I keep my own seed bank of non-GMO non-hybrid heirloom seeds. I maintain a large variety of vegetable and fruit species for planting in the event of such SHTF events along with long term food storage.

    The One

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