My freezer’s bigger than yours

Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Norway (Svalbard Archipelago)

The fight against species extinction has many fronts. The Global Seed Vault on Spitsbergen – halfway between Norway and the North Pole – is a seed storage facility built to withstand natural and manmade disasters. Safeguarding everything from sheep food to chilli peppers, it has the capacity to store 4.5 million crop varieties inside a sandstone mountain high above sea level where the permafrost that will ensure that the carefully packaged seeds remain below the required -18°C for several weeks, even if there is a power failure.

“Your chapatti, your tortilla, your slice of bread, your sushi, your morning coffee, your afternoon tea, your evening soup, your nightcap, even your meat – almost everything you eat and drink has its basis in seeds,” explains Marie Haga, the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Currently, the vault holds more than 880,000 samples, ranging from unique varieties of African and Asian food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato. The vault already holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world and is an insurance policy for the world’s food supply. It costs US$625 invested today to conserve a single crop variety in an international collection. Many seeds can survive for several hundred years and select grains far longer than that. The vault aims to raise US$850 million through individual, private sector and government support. 

The Crop Trust hope that more institutions around the world will recognise the importance of this global back up and deposit seeds for safekeeping into the vault. “Continue to acknowledge the link between crop diversity conserved in gene banks and the food that’s on our tables and begin to invest in securing this foundation, forever.” Donating US$50 can ensure the conservation of one variety of maize for an entire year.

Editor’s update 22 November 2017:

As of February 2017, over 930,821 accessions of our most important food crops were stored deep within the permafrost.

AtlasAction: ► Launch an interactive visit to follow a seed deposit.

Submitted by

Chris Moss (24 September 2015)


Chris Moss has been writing on travel, tech, sex, food, art and books for nearly two decades. He co-founded street paper Hecho en Buenos Aires, writes regularly for the Guardian and Telegraph newspapers, and is now writing a thriller set in Andalusia.

Project leader

Cary Fowler, Executive Director, Crop Trust

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