Syrian War Prompts First Seed Withdrawal from Arctic Doomsday Vault
The civil war raging in Syria has prompted the first seed withdrawal from the ‘doomsday’ seed vault built into an arctic mountainside in order to safeguard future global food supply.
Researchers in the Middle East have requested seeds including samples of wheat, barley, and grasses suited to dry growing conditions to replace stored seeds in a gene bank near the city of Aleppo that had been damaged in the war.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was built on the Svalbard archipelago in Norway in 2008 with the goal of preserving collected crop seeds including rice, wheat, and beans as a safety precaution against the loss of biodiversity as a result of nuclear war or disease. The vault contains 860,000 samples from nearly every nation on earth and is designed in such a way that even if the power were to fail, the vault would remain sealed and frozen for 200 years.
The seed bank in Aleppo has remained partially functioning despite the ongoing conflict including the running of cold storage, but it has not been able to continue in its capacity to grow seeds for distribution to other Middle Eastern countries. The seeds were requested by the Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) which moved its headquarters from Aleppo to Beirut in 2012 due to the war.
In what will be the first withdrawal from the vault, ICARDA has requested nearly 130 boxes of the original 325 boxes it deposited in the vault containing 116,000 samples according to Grethe Evjen, an expert at the Norwegian Agriculture Ministry. Many of the seeds deposited by ICARDA have specific traits making them resistant to drought, which could be used to help breed crops better suited for cultivation in dry regions from Australia to Africa.
Once the paperwork associated with the withdrawal request is completed, the seeds will be sent to ICARDA said Ms. Evjen.