Seed World

Svalbard Seed Vault Welcomes Baobab, Hairy Eggplant and African Rice

Photo Credit: Svalbard Global Seed Vault/Riccardo Gangale.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will open its doors for the first time this year to welcome 23 depositors, half from Africa, according to a press release

For the first time, nine depositors from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Zambia are entrusting their seeds for safekeeping. Among the seeds deposited this time are several popular crops such as beans, barley, cowpea, maize, rice, millet, and sorghum.

A Symbol of Collective Commitment

Established 16 years ago and operated in a partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) and the Crop Trust, this facility was created with the capacity to house more than two billion seeds, safeguarding their accessibility for future generations. Located in the permafrost of the Svalbard archipelago on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Seed Vault maintains optimal conditions for the long-term storage of seeds, protecting them from natural and human-made disasters.

The deposit on 27 February saw a diverse array of returning and new depositors contributing to safeguarding agricultural biodiversity. With the addition of almost 14,000 this month, the release notes that the Seed Vault will now house over 1.27 million seed samples. 

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a long-term security measure for global food security. This deposit will be the largest number of new depositors that we have ever seen,” said Geir Pollestad, Minister of Agriculture and Food for Norway. “After this deposit, 111 seed banks in 77 different countries will have a backup of their seeds in Svalbard. This is not a symbolic act, it is part of the countries’ security policy.”

International Seeds Go Underground

IPK (Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research) in Germany will deposit the largest number of seeds: 2,679 samples of 267 different species of crops. Mali’s Institut d’Economie Rurale is the second largest depositor, with 1,601 samples of ​​sorghum, beans, pearl millet, fonio, millet and other crops.

Pearl Millet

Madagascar’s National Center for Applied Research of Rural Development will send the third-largest deposit, comprising 1,045 rice accessions. This, along with 14 other contributions, is made feasible through assistance from the Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods, and Development (BOLD) Project. The BOLD Project is a decade-long global initiative aimed at enhancing global food and nutrition security, supported by the Government of Norway and spearheaded by the Crop Trust.

Representing diverse geographical regions, BOLD partners gather from across the globe. Among them, Ahmadu Bello University, a prominent institution in Africa, will make its inaugural deposits of cowpea and rice from Nigeria. Meanwhile, the University of Sarajevo’s Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, will contribute seeds of maize, beans, and various other crops. Additionally, the Indonesia-based Borneo Institute Foundation, an NGO, will dispatch seeds of hairy eggplant, maize, rice, and Vigna.

The Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER) of Mali, a returning contributor, will transport seeds of African rice and fonio (Digitaria exilis), both facing decline. African rice, a unique local species distinct from its more widely known Asian counterpart, was historically overlooked and prohibited from cultivation in commercial rice areas. Predominantly found in the inland delta of the Niger River, African rice is highly nutritious. Through crossbreeding with Asian rice, new and more productive varieties have been developed, offering significant benefits to the populations of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

The deposit also includes tree and forage seeds. 

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is dispatching agroforestry tree seeds, including African baobab and various types of acacia. Skogfrøverket, the Forest Tree Seed Centre in Norway tasked with conserving and managing forest tree seeds, will deliver birch, pine, and spruce seeds. Additionally, the Julius Kühn Institute from Germany will contribute apple seeds.

The releases notes that BOLD project partner and first-time depositor, the Kazakh Scientific Research Institute of Agriculture and Plant Growing is putting a particular emphasis on safeguarding seeds of alfalfa and wheat grass. 

“Pastures are the main source of animal feed for indigenous communities. Unfortunately, pasture species are disappearing in some places,” said Sakysh Yerzhanova, Leading Researcher of the Forage Crops Laboratory of the Kazakh institute. New Zealand’s national forage genebank, the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre, is sending perennial ryegrass and other forage crops.

Once delivered safely to the Seed Vault, the seed samples will join the tens of thousands already stored in the subterranean seed chambers at temperatures of around −18°C.

“One cannot describe the relief and joy we all feel as the seed boxes from all over the world arrive at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust, said. “There is so much work behind this brief moment. The Seed Vault represents a shared commitment to global peace, where nations unite to safeguard a common resource vital for sustaining life worldwide. Preserving genetic diversity in this Arctic fastness ensures the adaptability and resilience in our crops, guaranteeing food security for generations to come.”