In a highly complex construction, located deep inside a mountain on an island of the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, only 1,300 kilometers away from the North Pole, an invaluable fortune is being kept – samples of more than 783,000 distinct crop varieties. With the intention to insure against the loss of seeds in the event of large-scale crisis and to reduce hunger and poverty in the developing countries, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault preserves world‘s crop diversity and encourages further development of agriculture.
The establishment of the vault was initiated by Morgan Carrington Fowler, Jr, an American agriculturalist and the former executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), an international organization which aims at guaranteeing the conservation of crop diversity. In 2004 a tripartite agreement – the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture – between the GCDT, the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) came into force and thus implemented the international legal framework for securing and accessing crop variety.
The construction of the vault was funded entirely by the Norwegian government, which had to contribute approximately 45 million Norwegian krones. Since no permanent staff at the vault is needed, the comparatively low operational costs (1,800 NOK) are divided between the GCDT and the Norwegian government.
The vault is installed by the slope of the Svalbard mountain, deep down underground and in order to reach the main base, one has to first walk down the 93,2 meters long corridor. This passage connects the 26 meters long entrance section with three storage areas, which are situated even deeper, 27 meters further into the mountain. At the end of the tunnel, there are three chambers: in the first room the amount of needed electricity is regulated, in the second one electricity is distributed to maintain the productivity of the crops and finally in the third room staff‘s inventory is stored.
The storage rooms are kept at −18 °C, so that the low temperature and limited access to oxygen would delay seed aging.
The access to the vault is secured by highly reflective stainless steel and mirrors, which reflect polar light in the summer and give the piece a greenish and white light in the winter, so that the vault would not be noticeable for everybody‘s eye. The security system continues to amaze inside of the building as well: the seeds are stored in sealed envelopes and then placed into plastic containers on metal shelving racks. The storage rooms are kept at −18 °C, so that the low temperature and limited access to oxygen would delay seed aging.
Crops are sent to the Svarlbard Global Seed Vault from every corner of the world. Every depositor has to sign a Deposit Agreement with NordGen, which acts on behalf of Norway. It is relevant to note that the Agreement concludes that the Norwegian government does not claim ownership over the deposited samples and that ownership remains only with the depositor, who has the sole right of access to those materials in the seed vault.
Ultimately, it can be concluded that the Svarlbard Global Seed Vault is extremely needed, since the majority of the seed banks in developing countries are at great risk of natural disasters or general instability. Its mere existence acts as a safeguard for the future generations and ensures us with the possibility to secure global system for the conservation of crop diversity all around the world.