Oslo, March 2: Worried about the world running out of food? Your concerns are genuine looking at the threats posed by climate change on agriculture and food supply. Long before such questions cropped up in our minds, the Nordic country, Norway, took upon itself to protect agricultural seeds from extinction by building a massive underground vault (storage facility).
Svalbard Global Seed Vault lies deep inside a mountain in the remote island of Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The vault is housed inside a coal mine, located nearly 400 feet beneath the earth's surface.
"It is a long-term seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time--and the challenges posed by natural and man-made disasters. The seed vault represents the world's largest collection of crop diversity," stated Government.no, a website run by the government of Norway.
Since the vault promises to protect seeds, and ensure that food supply of the world does not get affected, the storage facility is also called as "doomsday" seed vault. Currently, the vault is in possession of 1 million seed samples. The entire initiative is funded by the Norwegian government.
The vault started its operation 10 years ago. While marking its 10th anniversary in February, Norway decided to technically upgrade the 'rare' initiative. As a part of its upgradation, the government has decided to spend 100 million NOK or 12.7 million USD.
"The upgradation, which we hope to begin soon, will ensure that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault can continue to offer the world's gene banks a secure storage space in the future. It is a great and important task to safeguard all the genetic material that is crucial to the global food security," said Norway's minister of agriculture and food, Jon Georg Dale.
The upgrades will include a concrete access tunnel, a service building for emergency power and refrigerating units, as well as other electrical equipment that will emit heat through the tunnel, HuffPost reported.
The decision to improve the facility has come nearly one year after floodwaters threatened to enter the vault due to the melting of ice in the area. Thankfully, water did not damage any seeds.
The important role played by the seed vault was made evident last year. "For the first time seeds were redeposited at the seed vault in Svalbard. The ICARDA International Research Center, previously operating out of Aleppo in Syria, returned harvested seeds which they took from Svalbard in 2015. This demonstrates that the seed vault is a worldwide insurance for food supply for future generations," said Dale.
In 2015, the vault gave seeds to Syria to re-grow its crops wiped out by the country's ongoing civil war. It is not just Norway which is working towards protection of crops.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO), there are more than 1,700 gene banks housing food crops around the world.