OSLO, Norway, 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
The facility in Svalbard is scheduled to be opened in 2006, although
the ministry has not specified a location as yet.
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 Wera Helstroem.
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 world.
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.
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