Brazilian beans and Japanese barley shipped to Svalbard seed vault

Some 20,000 plant species from more than 100 countries and institutions will be added to the global seed bank in Norway
The entrance of Svalbard Global Seed Vault a repository for seeds, Norway

The Svalbard global seed vault is primarily designed as a back-up for the many gene banks around the world that keep samples of crop diversity for agricultural businesses. Photograph: Alamy

A Noah’s Ark of 20,000 plant species will unload this week at a remote Arctic port to deposit humanity’s latest insurance payment against an agricultural apocalypse or a man-made cock-up.

Brazilian beans and Japanese barley are among the botanical varieties that are carried aboard the ship that is shortly expected to dock near the Svalbard global seed vault, that celebrates its sixth anniversary this week.

The facility, which is bored into the side of a mountain by the Barents Sea, is primarily designed as a back-up for the many gene banks around the world that keep samples of crop diversity for agricultural businesses.

But its operators, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, say the “Doomsday Vault” could also help to reboot the world’s farms in the event of a climate catastrophe or a collapse of genetically modified crops.

Built to withstand a nuclear strike, a tectonic shift or rising sea levels, the vault has the capacity to store 4.5m different seed varieties for centuries.

Currently, it holds 820,619 samples of food crops and their natural relatives, but this is steadily increasing with one or two shipments each year, according to the trust, which maintains the seed vault in partnership with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resources Centre.

 

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