Doomsday vault receives its first seeds

An international seed bank built to safeguard the genetic diversity of the planet's crop plants through and global calamity - including the worst ravages of climate change - has received its first seeds.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is built deep under the permafrost in a mountainside on a Norwegian island on the edge of the Arctic circle and is designed to store seeds at a stable temperature indefinitely.

This week its first consignment of seeds arrived in Oslo and will be shipped out to the vault in time for its official opening on February 26.

The seeds came from the Nigerian-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and represent a wide variety of African crop strains including wild vigna, soybean, maize, bambara and black-eyed peas – also known as cow pea.

Dr Dominique Dumet, manager of the IITA’s genebank, said: “the institute has the world’s largest and most diverse seed collection of cowpea with some 15,122 unique samples that come from 88 countries.

“IITA estimates that their genebank holds close to half of global cowpea diversity and its collection contains about 70% landraces from Africa.”

Landraces are, in layman’s terms, varieties of domestic plants and animals which have adapted to their local surroundings over many generations and have built up a natural resistance to pests and diseases which affect the area they are grown in.

Black-eyed peas are particularly important for Africa as a fast-growing and very nutritious crop, one of the most ancient known to man, popular because it grows well in dry and semi-arid regions while maintaining healthy soil.

The SGSV is designed to survive natural disasters, extreme weather conditions, global warming and nuclear war (see related story).

Sam Bond

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