United by Seeds

 Ahmed Amri, head of genetic resources for ICARDA, loads seeds for redeposit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Feburary 2017. (Photo: ICARDA)

Ahmed Amri, head of genetic resources for ICARDA, loads seeds for redeposit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Feburary 2017. (Photo: ICARDA)

Seeds were foremost on the mind of Ahmed Amri—head of genetic resources for the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)—when civil war erupted in Syria in the spring of 2011.

One of 11 international gene banks charged with conserving the world’s vital crops, ICARDA preserves varieties from arid regions, mostly in developing countries. And in 2011, ICARDA had more than 140,000 packets of seeds preserved in cold storage 19 miles south of Aleppo, an ancient city in the country’s northwest region that was soon engulfed in fighting. Those packets included seeds for ancient varieties as well as an extensive collection of lentil, barley, and faba bean varieties—in short, genetic resources developed over thousands of years.

The precious seeds were perilously close to being lost forever. But, thankfully, Amri and many others on ICARDA’s staff had worked diligently to back up the majority of the center’s collection in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a secure seed storage facility opened in February 2008 about 1,300 kilometers south of the North Pole. By preserving duplicate samples of seeds held in gene banks worldwide, the vault provides an insurance policy against loss of crop diversity caused by climate change, natural disaster, or, in the case of ICARDA, war.

In October 2015, ICARDA demonstrated the vital importance of Svalbard when it became the first organization to withdraw seeds from vault; the organization used the seeds to regenerate new ICARDA seed collections in Morocco and Lebanon. In February 2017, less than two years later, ICARDA successfully redeposited more than 15,000 seed samples back into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 

 The Svalbard Global Seed Vault backs up seeds from gene banks worldwide, including ICARDA and Seed Savers Exchange.  (Photo: NordGen)

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault backs up seeds from gene banks worldwide, including ICARDA and Seed Savers Exchange.  (Photo: NordGen)

Like ICARDA, Seed Savers Exchange has backed up seeds at Svalbard since the vault's opening; it is the only nongovernmental organization to do so. Our deposits at Svalbard provide an added layer of insurance that these varieties will be there for the future. They also unite us with others from every background and culture imaginable in an effort to hold onto what we all value: seeds for the foods that sustain us.

Your financial support allows us to continue to be a part of the movement to preserve seed diversity for future generations. Please donate today.