Saturday, February 23, 2008

Norway builds Noah's Ark seed vault

With Doomsday prophesies attacking our ears and our airwaves, it isn’t difficult to understand how Norway came to the conclusion that we need to insure our survival in case of agricultural catastrophe. The kingdom has built an Arctic repository to preserve the seeds of our food stores in case most of our civilization dies out.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a repository in the Arctic Circle built to store safety copies of vital agricultural info in case of disaster. The first specimens, including 7,000 seeds from 36 different African nations, have shipped to the storehouse, which is due to open February 26.

The Nigerian-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture sent thousands of duplicates of unique varieties of domesticated and wild cowpea (black-eyed pea), maize, soybean and Bambara groundnut. Shipments from Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Syria and Benin are expected later this month.

The seed bank will eventually hoard refrigerated samples of nearly all of the world’s food crops in an effort to preserve our agricultural heritage. If this sounds fatalistic, think again: these crops are vital to nourishing human populations.

“So called ‘orphan’ crops like cowpea and groundnut are not minor or insignificant crops,” said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “They are of great importance to regional food security. In addition, they are often adapted to harsh environments and are diverse in terms of their genetic, agroclimatic and economic niches.”

What this means to you: if a man-made or natural disaster threatens our agricultural systems, the seed bank will bolster our food security. Cowpea cupcakes for everyone!

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