Humanity had to cash in on its insurance policy earlier than expected. A “doomsday vault” buried deep in the Arctic to preserve seeds of almost every crop on Earth in the event of a catastrophe had to be opened. This is the first time the vault was opened since it was established in February, 2008.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a seed bank nestled in the Arctic Archipelago, was created to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters, as a backup for humanity. It is operated by the Norwegian government.
Officials have confirmed that scientists have withdrawn from the vault. Scientists have been stuffing the bank with a new strain of drought and heat-resistant wheat that has been developed over time. They were unable to carry on with the research because of the war in Syria. With no sign of conditions in Syria improving, they have now started to recover the critical inventory of seeds.
In secret shipments, 38,000 seed samples of wheat, barley, lentil and chickpea were sent from Norway to be planted at research stations in Morocco and Lebanon, as the Syrian facilities of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) are not available anymore. This allows the scientists to resume the important research they have been doing for decades.
The gene bank in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, but affected by war, used to be run by the ICARDA. It was one of the most important research centers in the world with more than 135,000 varieties of wheat, fava bean, lentil and chickpea crops, and the world’s most valuable barley collection.
ICARDA will use the seeds to fulfill requests for crop diversity from breeders, researchers and farmers from around the world, so they can develop and test new strains to cope with a changing climate and new diseases.