Washington, Jan 31 : A shipment carrying twenty-one boxes filled with 7,000 unique seed samples from more than 36 African nations has arrived in Norway, on route to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility being built on a remote island in the Arctic Circle for storage of crops for the future.
The vault, which is all set to open on February 26, 2008, is being built by the Norwegian government to store backup copies of as many as three million different crop varieties, to ensure that humans could regrow the crops needed for survival in case of a doomsday scenario.
The African shipment, which was sent by the Ibadan, Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), consists of thousands of duplicates of unique varieties of domesticated and wild cowpea, maize, soybean, and Bambara groundnut.
The seeds from the IITA genebank in Ibadan, Nigeria, were packed in 21 boxes weighing a total of 330 kg.
The seeds were shipped on to Oslo, Norway, on route to the village of Longyearbyen on Norway's Svalbard archipelago, where the vault has been constructed in a mountain deep inside the Arctic permafrost.
"IITA's genebank houses the world's largest collection of cowpea, with over 15,000 unique varieties from 88 countries around the world," said Dr Dominique Dumet, genebank manager at IITA.
"Our collection holds in-trust about 70 percent of cowpea landraces from Africa. Cowpea (also known as black-eyed pea in the USA) is a key staple in Africa, offering an inexpensive source of protein," he added.
Cowpea and dozens of other crops, like cassava, yams, and millets, are known as "orphan" crops, because they receive less attention than they deserve relative to their value and importance.
According to researchers at the World Vegetable Center in Taiwan, collectively, 27 "orphan" crops with a value of 100 billion dollars are grown on 250 million hectares (618 million acres) in developing countries.
"So called 'orphan' crops like cowpea and groundnut are not minor or insignificant crops. They are of great importance to regional food security," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
"In addition, they are often adapted to harsh environments and are diverse in terms of their genetic, agroclimatic, and economic niches," he added.
Storage of these and all the other seeds at Svalbard is intended to ensure that they will be available for bolstering food security should a manmade or natural disaster threaten agricultural systems, or even the genebanks themselves, at any point in the future.