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Svalbard Global Seed Vault Is Very Much Open For Business

“Sometimes, kept awake by my work, I would tell myself stories of Svalbard.” - Jacob Brogan


Svalbard Global Seed Vault


Sometimes, I sit in my world, step back, and look at the universe as a whole; instead of compartmentalizing, I ask why. Even during a time of war, when people are at odds in places like Ukraine or Israel - people are counterbalancing those efforts by taking steps to save our agricultural history, otherwise known as the seed savers. I can’t help but think about the collaborative work going into saving the seeds of our food system. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault safeguards over 1.2 million seeds from over 70 countries, preserving crop research and plant science for humanity. In October of 2023, the country of Ghana was Svalbard’s 100th depositor of copies of seeds from generations past and quite possibly the future of our food system. 


Svalbard Global Seed Bank

Focusing on writing an article on what some might say is an overwritten topic may be right, but if human nature prevails, then a fluid conversation about the future of food and farming should be top on our list. Trending analytics and the focus on preserving the integrity of our food system. Some will ask why we haven’t done better due diligence with tubers and food like bananas. Maybe others are thinking about wild seed and preserving the grasses and woody mass; the truth is, we are taking action, but this whole process of building and supporting an all-inclusive time capsule takes a significant amount of time and human resources.  


Svalbard Global Seed Bank

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault Virtual Tour

Perched along the hill between the Svalbard Satellite Station and the airport, etched into the landscape, is an illuminated structure built into the permafrost of the Arctic Circle. Carved into the side of the hill, nearly 500 feet into the earth - the seed vault was architected by Peter Søderman, a concrete gray wedge, perfectly sculpted, with the ability to house 4.5 million crop varieties, noted by The Crop Trust. The illuminescent structure, designed an implemented by Dyveke Sanne, was built with the symbology of a guiding light, named “Perpetual Repercussion”. 


The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established and is owned by the country of Norway. It is operated in a unique partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the regional gene bank NordGen, and The Crop Trust; an independent international organization supporting education and recordkeeping for the safeguarding of our seeds. The online virtual tour is sponsored by three organizations, The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NordGen, and the The Crop Trust; all participants and stewards of the seed vault. 


Svalbard Global Seed Bank

Depositing Seeds In Svalbard 

A student recently asked a teacher friend, “How do we get seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and who gets to send what?” She asked me to dig deeper into the information available to facilitate seed storage. Out of intrigue, I learned that the Ministry of Norway allows any gene bank interested in depositing seed copies to submit and catalog samples into the vault. The first step is to email seedvault@nordgen.org, requesting when you want to send seed copies to the facility. Next, provide the list of seeds and the name of the organization. From there, the gene bank begins becoming a “depositor.”  Once communications commence - NordGen will request the Accession list, and their staff will enter the seed and genetic data into a system called The Global Crop Diversity Trust Seed Portal. Once entered, the gene bank or depositor will receive an Import Permission document from NordGen. 


Shipping, as you can imagine, might be complicated when sending secure containers to the Arctic Circle. The seeds must be stored in 3-ply foil storage packets. The sender/gene bank sets up the shipping to Oslo Gardermoen - where inspection and customs will evaluate the container for the port of entry. An Airway Bill # and Tracking ID will be generated by the shipping company (DHL) and shared with all parties on the Airway Bill.  


Once the seeds arrive and are cleared, NordGen picks up and delivers the container on one of their scheduled dates; they deposit the seeds via video recording and live streaming. NordGen then marks the Institution/gene bank code and tags the box # and box name into the Seed Portal - a rich database cataloging all data in the chain of custody, ensuring storage and recordkeeping, recording the total # of seeds, sample species, and the subsidiaries of the gene bank organization, including shipping and customs data, for more information on the 1700 global gene banks, container requirements, and the seed vault deposit agreement, goto NordGen.org


Svalbard Global Seed Bank

Visiting The Seed Vault 

For the adventurous at heart, there are a handful of ways to visit the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.  The Global Seed Vault is closed to visitors, but you can participate in interactive hikes near the site through Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions and Longyearbyen, as well as 2-hour taxi tours. 


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