Crop diversity is paramount for human food supply. However, it is getting lost for different reasons: wars, natural disasters, poor management of agriculture, for example. Therefore, gene banks were built all over the world to preserve samples of these precious seeds to ensure that humanity will be fed no matter what. The aim of these gene banks is to store these seeds and, in case of need, release them to be planted. After generating new plants, its seeds will be collected and stored again.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a kind of safe box for all these gene banks in the world. It is located in the Svalbard archipelago, which belongs to Norway, way up north in the Arctic Ocean. The construction of the Vault was completed in 2008. This facility was built inside a mountain that is always frozen. It has the ideal conditions to keep the seeds under the perfect temperature without the need of much sophisticated freezing artificial systems. Plus, it is located very near an airport, so the transportation of seeds is facilitated.
The building was funded and constructed by the Government of Norway, who owns it. So, maintenance and improvement of the facility are under the responsibility of the Norwegian Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Contacts with gene banks are under the responsibility of NordGen, which is also responsible for managing the Seed Portal . Operations, including helping gene banks with the transportation of seeds, are under the responsibility of Crop Trust.
The idea is that gene banks throughout the world deposit duplicates of their seeds in the Vault. They are not moving the seeds, just creating an additional box of the same seeds that to be stored elsewhere. The Vault is not directly open to anyone except for representatives of the gene banks that make the deposits and these representatives are only allowed to have access to the deposits of the gene bank they represent. Seeds that are allowed to get into the Vault must be under the Multilateral System or under Article 15 of the International Treaty, or are originated from the country of the gene bank in question. Deposits are free of charge and their monitoring are entirely of the responsibility of the gene bank which owns them.
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