June 27, 2005 (ENS): Norway will make use of
its icy climate to establish an agricultural seed bank
as a safety net for global food security, the government
announced Thursday. The goal is to protect food resources
against plant diseases and the effects of climate change,
wars and natural disasters.
Planned for the remote Svalbard islands that lie to
the north of mainland Norway, the seed depository will
be the only one of its kind in the world, said the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs.
"Svalbard is an ideal location for this purpose,"
the ministry said. "Owing to the permafrost, the
seeds will retain their ability to germinate for a long
time, even if electricity supplies fail."
The facility in Svalbard is scheduled to be opened
in 2006, although the ministry has not specified a location
The depository will store genetic copies of seeds that
are already being stored in gene depositories elsewhere
in the world, providing an additional safety net for
the world’s food supply.
The seed depository will store seeds of the crop plants
that are most important for food security, depending
on what users of the facility want, said ministry spokeswoman
The depository will operate like its counterpart in
the financial world, she said. Client countries will
put in deposits and make withdrawals, but Norway will
own the facility.
Seeds contain the genetic blueprints that determine
plant characteristics, and wide genetic variation makes
it possible to grow crops under different climatic conditions
and to provide a broad selection of foods all over the
This biological diversity provides an insurance against
climate change, plant diseases and pests.
The Svalbard Arctic seed depository initiative has
been well received in the international community, the
foreign ministry said.
The ownership and distribution of the gains from genetic
plant material have long been a sensitive issue, but
Norway has signed international agreements that will
ensure proper management of the Arctic seed depository,
said the ministry.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the
Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food
will co-operate to establish the seed depository.
The northernmost part of the Kingdom of Norway, Svalbard
consists of nine main islands. Only 2,330 people live
on the mountainous, treeless islands, largely covered
by glaciers and snowfields.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All Rights