Syrian upheaval spurs first seed vault withdrawal

The Global Seed Vault cost the country of Norway $9 million dollars to build. Photo: explorerray.comThe Global Seed Vault cost the country of Norway $9 million dollars to build.

The Global Seed Vault has had its first withdrawal request since its construction back in 2008.

This doomsday vault of seeds is located on the Norwegian island of Svalbard and contains more than 860,000 samples of seeds, originating from almost every country in the world.

Buried 393.7 feet into rock, this permafrost-protected Noah’s Ark of Agriculture has served as a safeguard for the possible loss of crop diversity held in the other seed banks around the world.

The withdrawal request came from one of Crop Trust’s 11 global seed banks, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which is based in Aleppo, Syria.

As the Syrian civil war continues to rage, the international staff fled the ICARDA center and left behind its gene bank of more than 135,000 varieties of wheat and other crops back in 2012.

Now, three years later, the ICARDA scientists are requesting that seeds deposited at Svalbard be returned so they can continue their research on drought- and heat-tolerant wheat in their Lebanon and Morocco facilities, according to CNN.

Depositors at the Norwegian vault retain ownership of the seeds. However, only samples of the seeds deposited in Norway will be distributed to the depositors; that way, if the researchers happen to lose their collection in a disaster of some kind, the seeds can be restored with Svalbard’s copies.

Once the ICARDA scientists are able to generate more seeds, these will be sent back to Norway to be stored. The logistics of exactly when and how the seeds will be moved are still being worked out, according to Crop Trust spokesman Brian Lainoff.

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