In May 2016, Magnum’s Jonas Bendiksen witnessed the deposit of more than 8,000 varieties of crops – from sheep food to chilli peppers – from Germany, Thailand, New Zealand, and the World Vegetable Center into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which only opens 2-3 times a year.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on a remote Norwegian archipelago for seeds to be stored deep within the permafrost. Nestled into the rocky waste of Plataberget Mountain, amongst the snow, Svalbard is the seed bank of seed banks, designed as a back-up for others.
Safely burrowed into the mountain rock, deep enough to protect it from air temperature rihigh enough to avoid potential sea level rises, the Vault, which opened in 2008, is designed to last a thousand years, and to withstand a wide range of potential doomsday scenarios, including climate change, nuclear war, and even an asteroid strike.
It exists, in the words of its executive director Åslaug Haga, to “safeguard one of the most important natural resources” – plants. Indeed, the way humans farm and the way cities and industries have grown has damaged the diversity of crops, reducing options for future crops.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway acts as an insurer to other seed collections: this free global service allows organizations to store their seeds once they are already placed in both their own collections and another seed bank, as a final back up. They can then request to withdraw the seeds – also for free – if and when they need them. Amongst the seeds being protected this way by The Crop Trust currently are 200,000 varieties of rice and 125,000 varieties of wheat.