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seed bank for humanity

Seed bank for humanity

Thinking of creating your own seed bank? Here is a new resource from Seeds of Diversity and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security that outlines the main steps.

Whether your seed collection is big enough for a walk-in freezer, or small enough for a shoe-box; whether it is a personal collection or a shared community collection, you want your seeds to last as long as possible in storage, and you want to use the best methods for testing, organizing, and labeling. This primer was written for you, with the best seed conservation methods we know of that can be achieved in a house, office, public library, or community center, at a minimum cost.

You’ve probably read about government seed banks; giant cold-storage vaults with hundreds of thousands of seeds stored for decades in fire-proof, bomb-proof, and flood-proof facilities. Those seed banks house immeasurably valuable crop genetics that are an essential part of humanity’s long-term food sustainability, but they focus on security, not on broad public access. Conservation seed banks can keep seeds viable and safe for decades, but only in tiny quantities. The reason is simple. Major seed banks store hundreds of thousands of varieties of seeds, so they only have enough room for mere grams of each variety. If we ever need to use those seeds, they’ll have to be grown and multiplied for several years before even one field can be planted.

Seeds of Diversity backs up its seed collection with the Canadian government Plant Gene Resources seed bank, for safety and long-term back up, but that’s only a precaution, not the real point of our collecting effort. We want to re-introduce and re-circulate thousands of varieties of seeds that aren’t available from any commercial seed companies. Putting them in a vault is important, but getting them out into communities is our real goal.

That’s why micro-seedbanks matter. If you and your friends can keep a well-managed seed collection in your community, then you can control your own seed security, and adapt it to your region’s needs. We’re here to help you learn how.

Micro-Seedbanking: A primer on setting up and running a community seed bank

  • Storage Conditions
  • Drying Seeds for Storage
  • Containers for Seed Storage
  • Labelling and Seed Information
  • Germination Tests

We’ve gathered the best practices from seed banking protocols used around the world, and developed simple methods based on strong science. Amazingly, you can run a very effective seed bank with basic household items and little expense. The key is to understand your seeds’ storage needs, and to keep your collection well labeled and organized.

Community-based seed collections create a local supply of seeds for field testing and multiplication, a concrete way for local growers to learn from each other, help preserve the genetic stocks of locally bred and locally adapted varieties, and involve people in the crucial work of conserving and multiplying their local seeds.

You can use the same principles and practices for any seed collection, of any size, even your own leftover seeds, even just a shoebox full.

Seed bank for humanity Thinking of creating your own seed bank? Here is a new resource from Seeds of Diversity and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security that outlines the main

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

No seeds were lost but the ability of the rock vault to provide failsafe protection against all disasters is now threatened by climate change

The Svalbard ‘doomsday’ seed vault was built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters. Photograph: John Mcconnico/AP

The Svalbard ‘doomsday’ seed vault was built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters. Photograph: John Mcconnico/AP

Last modified on Thu 15 Oct 2020 14.25 BST

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.

But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

“A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C.

But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

Plastic boxes containing plant seeds inside the international Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Spitsbergen, Norway. Photograph: Jens Buttner/dpa/Alamy

The vault’s managers are now waiting to see if the extreme heat of this winter was a one-off or will be repeated or even exceeded as climate change heats the planet. The end of 2016 saw average temperatures over 7C above normal on Spitsbergen, pushing the permafrost above melting point.

“The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?” said Aschim. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway’s Meteorological Institute.

“The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going,” Isaksen told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

No seeds were lost but the ability of the rock vault to provide failsafe protection against all disasters is now threatened by climate change