Even before the civil war, Syria had been suffering a damaging drought that had driven many farmers off the land and into the cities. With war further exacerbating the threat to food and animal feed supplies in a region heavily exposed to food insecurity. The vault has now truly proven its worth in a real-life situation.
Opium poppies. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Not surprisingly for a facility primarily designed as a backup for food and agriculture, the vast majority of the seeds in the vault – 444 million or 69% – are grains such as rice, millet, wheat, corn, barley, etc. Legumes such as chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc. are second at 9% or 58 million seeds. The remaining 22% contains a vast array of nearly 6000 different species of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other plants.
Who puts seeds in the vault?
There are seeds from all continents including Antarctica (though technically those are from some small islands between Antarctica and Africa). Asia and Africa make up 62%. 11% of the seeds are of unknown (or at least unlabeled) geographic origin.
Finger Millet. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Vault’s official opening ceremony was on 26 February 2008. On that same day, 112 million seeds – 17% of the total seeds to date – were deposited. Further deposits the rest of the year doubled that initial number. Annual deposits continued a slower pace for several years but from 2016 onwards have picked up somewhat. 2018’s 78 million seeds were the highest since 2010 thanks to 35 different institutions making deposits.
Broom-corn. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Countries and organizations deposit seeds that are held for withdrawal at a future time. Each organization’s seeds are stored in the equivalent of safety deposit boxes. If disaster wipes out a crop and all locally stored seeds are not viable for whatever reason, a depositor can withdraw the saved seeds so the crop doesn’t become extinct.
A conservationist’s dream: Imagine a fail-safe seed vault deep underground in a sandstone mountain, designed to withstand natural catastrophes such as tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and drought as well as man- made disasters such as those caused by war. Crazy, huh?
Just what is the “Doomsday Vault?”
How does it work?
Our recent blog post, 18 Fun Fact s About Cannabis , mentioned that Bill Gates and other investors have secured a “doomsday seed vault” to preserve a wide variety of plant seeds. As promised, here’s more information on the famed vault.
Such a place exists. It’s called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and it’s located on a remote island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The idea behind the vault is that even though seed depositories are located around the world, all are vulnerable in one way or another. Hence the need for the catastrophe-proof Svalbard Global Seed Vault, aptly nicknamed the “Doomsday Vault,” that opened on February 26, 2008.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault can hold up to 4.5 million varieties of seeds and currently stores more than 860,000 varieties from more than 60 institutions and nearly every country in the world. All the food staples are covered; right now the vault holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world, and new deposits keep coming in.