More Than 30,000 New Seeds Arrive At The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

(June 2, 2021) - On June 1, 2021, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault received its highest number of seed deposits since February 2020 – since the worldwide response to COVID-19 made international transfers more difficult.

The UN General Assembly’s designation of 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables was well reflected in this week’s deposit of seeds at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Tomatoes, peppers, and African vegetables such as spider plant and amaranth, melons, sorghum, collards, and beans were among the 50 vegetable species from seven gene banks on five continents added to the Seed Vault shelves for long-term security storage.

A total of 85 boxes with thousands of seed samples will be deposited this week in the global seed vault on Svalbard. This seed deployment has a clear focus on vegetables in general and tomatoes in particular.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the second seed position this year will be the largest since February last year when the rebuilding of the seed vault was celebrated. This time, 85 boxes with a total of 30,410 seed samples were sent to Svalbard.

The World Vegetable Center

The World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg), an international agricultural research institute located in Taiwan which has frequently sent duplicate seeds from its collection to the seed vault, this week deposited another 11,771 seed samples of 48 vegetable species, which is their largest deposit to date.

WorldVeg maintains the world’s largest international vegetable germplasm collection, and according to Maarten van Zonneweld, WorldVeg’s Genebank Manager, “we want to have more than 90% of our collection duplicated and safely stored in Svalbard by 2025 – ideally the 65,000 accessions that make up the whole collection. It is our responsibility to ensure this collection is safeguarded according to international genebank standards, and that includes long-term, back-up duplication in Svalbard.”

The largest part of the seed samples in WorldVeg's delivery, 4,699 samples, consist of tomato seeds. Peppers and African crops that grow flat and amaranth are also plentiful in the boxes from WorldVeg. The COVID-19 pandemic did not affect WorldVeg's work on this deposit, but drought could be a major problem in the future.

"The COVID pandemic has been well controlled here and our team has been able to continue with the business as usual," says van Zonneweld. "However, we are facing one of the most prolonged droughts in several decades and this means a great challenge for future cultivation activities."

Sudan’s Sorghum Selection

The Agricultural Plant Genetic Resources Conservation and Research Center (APGRC) of Sudan shipped 351 seed samples to the Seed Vault, the majority from the genus Sorghum, a flowering plant grown as a cereal for human consumption and for animal feed. APGRC has more than 5,000 sorghum accessions, the largest element of its collection.

Center Director El Tahir Ibrahim Mohamed calls sorghum “an important crop for our nation.”

This deposit, the third that APGRC has made to the Seed Vault, also included sesame, beans, and tomatoes and, according to the director, “The number of tomato accessions being backed up in this deposit were introduced to our country a long time ago.”

Crop Trust assisted with financial support of the seed transport.

U.S. Home-grown Seeds

The U.S.-based NGO, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), makes regular seed deposits to the Seed Vault. Because of the pandemic, this new deposit of approximately 130 varieties was a bit smaller than usual. Normally 200 to 300 varieties are sent to Svalbard.

This shipment contained, among other things, kale, beans, and several varieties of melon and tomato.

“Many of the seed samples we are depositing come from home gardeners who have grown these varieties for decades and across generations," says Philip Kauth, SSE Director of Preservation. "The varieties have adapted to their local and regional climates and may be important ones for growing under the conditions of climate change.”

Crucial for food and nutrition security

With this June deposit, the world’s largest collection of crop diversity located in one place reached a total of more than 1.1 million seed samples. One more 2021 deposit is scheduled for October.

“To ensure food and nutrition security, crop diversity collections must have a back-up – a safety duplication copy,” says Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust which provided funds for transporting Sudan’s shipment. “We were honored to support the APGRC in Sudan in making this deposit. The Seed Vault is our planet’s ultimate back-up, and our aim is that all crop collections around the world will seize the opportunity to back-up their seeds in the Seed Vault for generations to come.”

Norway’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, Olaug Bollestad, adds that “preventing the loss of biodiversity within such an important nutrition source as vegetables is crucial. It will provide us with resources needed to adapt the agriculture of the future to a changing climate.”

The Seed Vault was established and is owned by the Government of Norway, and operated under a partnership of the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, NordGen – the Nordic countries’ gene bank, and the international organisation, the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Institutions Participating in the June Deposit

  • International Potato Center (Peru)
  • World Vegetable Center (Tainan)
  • APGRC (Sudan)
  • Center for Genetic Resources (Netherlands)
  • Crop Research Institute (Czech Republic)
  • ICARDA (Morocco/Lebanon)
  • Seed Savers Exchange (United States)

The seed vault on Svalbard has been built and is owned by Norway, but the operation is carried out in a partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, NordGen and the international organization Crop Trust.

Personnel from WorldVeg show the current delivery with seed samples. (Photo: WorldVeg)

In APGRC's deposit there were seeds from several tomato varieties, the picture shows one of them. (Photo: APGRC)

SSE's deposit contained, among other things, seeds from the melon variety Level. (Photo: Seed Savers Exchange)