Global Seed Vault

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:

This Year, a special vault in the Arctic that stores seeds from around the world to protect crops from dying out, got seeds from more new contributors than ever before. 

More about the news:

  • 23 seed banks joined in, 9 of them for the first time. According to Crop Trust, a non-profit that runs the vault with Norwegian authorities, this is the most new contributors added at once.
  • The arrived crates contained crops like beans, cowpea, barley, maize, millet, rice, and sorghum. 
  • Many of the deposits made on that day were part of a global 10-year biodiversity project called Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development (BOLD). 
    • BOLD, a project led by Crop Trust is to strengthen food and nutrition security worldwide by supporting the conservation and use of crop diversity. 
    • It builds on the Crop Wild Relatives Project (2011–2021), which conserved and used the wild relatives of crops to help future-proof the world’s food supply.
    • Launched in 2021, BOLD is funded by the Government of Norway.
  • With this recent deposit, Norway’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food stated that 111 seed banks in 77 countries now have backups of their plants in Svalbard ( The vault is situated here).

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Global Seed Vault):

  • The Government of Norway established and fully funded the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
  • The overall responsibility for the Seed Vault rests with the government, under the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food. 
    • Daily operations are overseen by the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen) under an agreement between the Ministry, NordGen, and the Crop Trust which partly provides funding for the Seed Vault’s management.
  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is situated in permafrost caverns on an island located within the European mainland and the North Pole. 
  • The facility was established 16 years ago and is designed to store over 2 billion seeds and guarantee their availability for future generations.
  • The Global Seed Vault houses over 930,000 varieties of food crops.
  • Acting as a massive safety deposit box, it contains the world’s largest collection of agricultural biodiversity.
  • The facility, also called the ‘doomsday’ vault, is not just for use in apocalyptic scenarios but is also designed to protect against smaller, more localized threats that gene banks worldwide face.
    • The vault has received samples from around the globe and was crucial between 2015 and 2019 in restoring seed collections damaged during the war in Syria.
  • The chambers are opened only three times a year to minimize the seeds’ exposure to the outside world. 

Why do we need a global seed vault?

  • Worldwide, more than 1,700 genebanks hold collections of food crops for safekeeping, yet many of these are vulnerable, exposed not only to natural catastrophes and war but also to avoidable disasters, such as lack of funding or poor management. 
    • Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection. 
    • And the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal, or any form of life. 
  • The Seed Vault stores duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections as a safeguard against such catastrophic loss.

How does it work?

  • A temperature of −18°C is required for optimal storage of the seeds. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen even without power. 
  • The seeds are sealed in custom-made three-ply foil packages, which are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the Seed Vault. 
  • The low temperature and moisture levels inside the Seed Vault ensure low metabolic activity, keeping the seeds viable for long periods of time.

Why only Svalbard to store seeds?

  • Svalbard is the farthest north a person can fly on a scheduled flight, offering a remote location that is nevertheless accessible.
  • It is a Norwegian archipelago halfway between the Northern Pole and Mainland Norway. This location is in many ways a perfect location for the world's seed backup.
  • Even though Svalbard is affected by global warming, it is still expected to remain one of the world’s coldest places.
  • While the entrance may be visible, the seed vault is more than 100 meters into the mountains. This area is geologically stable and humidity levels are low.
  • The seed vault is well above sea level, protected from ocean flooding according to worst-case scenario sea-level rises.
  • The Permafrost offers the seed vault natural freezing, providing a cost-effective and fail-safe method to conserve seeds.

Who can take the seeds out?

  • The seed boxes are stored under “black-box conditions,” meaning the depositors are the only ones who can withdraw their seeds. 
  • When seeds are deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, their legal ownership is not transferred. 
  • This means that a depositor who chooses to store seeds in the Seed Vault is still the owner of the seeds and the only one who can withdraw them from the Seed Vault.


The Arctic Seed Vault, located in Svalbard, plays a crucial role in preserving global agricultural biodiversity. Recent additions of seeds from diverse contributors underscore its importance in ensuring food security for future generations. The Vault's strategic location and robust security measures make it a reliable safeguard against various threats to crop diversity.

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