Posts Tagged ‘Svalbard’

Thousands Of Crop Varieties Depart For Arctic Seed Vault

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

– This is a follow up story on one I covered earlier here: and here: .

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At the end of January, more than 200,000 crop varieties from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East—drawn from vast seed collections maintained by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)—will be shipped to a remote island near the Arctic Circle, where they will be stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), a facility capable of preserving their vitality for thousands of years.

The cornucopia of rice, wheat, beans, sorghum, sweet potatoes, lentils, chick peas and a host of other food, forage and agroforestry plants is to be safeguarded in the facility, which was created as a repository of last resort for humanity’s agricultural heritage. The seeds will be shipped to the village of Longyearbyen on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, where the vault has been constructed on a mountain deep inside the Arctic permafrost.

The vault was built by the Norwegian government as a service to the global community, and a Rome-based international NGO, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, will fund its operation. The vault will open on February 26, 2008.

This first installment from the CGIAR collections will contain duplicates from international agricultural research centers based in Benin, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines and Syria. Collectively, the CGIAR centers maintain 600,000 plant varieties in crop genebanks, which are widely viewed as the foundation of global efforts to conserve agricultural biodiversity.

“Our ability to endow this facility with such an impressive array of diversity is a powerful testament to the incredible work of scientists at our centers, who have been so dedicated to ensuring the survival of the world’s most important crop species,” said Emile Frison, Director General of Rome-based Bioversity International, which coordinates CGIAR crop diversity initiatives.

“The CGIAR collections are the ‘crown jewels’ of international agriculture,” said Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which will cover the costs of preparing, packaging and transporting CGIAR seeds to the Arctic. “They include the world’s largest and most diverse collections of rice, wheat, maize and beans. Many traditional landraces of these crops would have been lost had they not been collected and stored in the genebanks.”

For example, the wheat collection held just outside Mexico City by the CGIAR-supported International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) contains 150,000 unique samples of wheat and its relatives from more than 100 countries. It is the largest unified collection in the world for a single crop. Overall, the maize collection represents nearly 90 percent of maize diversity in the Americas, where the crop originated. CIMMYT will continue to send yearly shipments of regenerated seed until the entire collection of maize and wheat has been backed up at Svalbard.

Storage of these and all the other seeds at Svalbard is intended to ensure that they will be available for bolstering food security should a manmade or natural disaster threaten agricultural systems, or even the genebanks themselves, at any point in the future.

“We need to understand that genebanks are not seed museums but the repositories of vital, living resources that are used almost every day in the never-ending battle against major threats to food production,” Bioversity International’s Frison said. “We’re going to need this diversity to breed new varieties that can adapt to climate change, new diseases and other rapidly emerging threats.”


Obscure information anyone? The Treaty of Svalbard

Friday, January 18th, 2008

I’ve been a nut about remote islands ever since I was a kid. I would pore over maps and spin the globe looking for every remote place I could find and then try to look things up about it to see what I could learn.

Unfortunately, growing up in the 60’s well before the internet, there was not very much around. If the encyclopedia in our house didn’t having anything and the local library didn’t, then that was it – dead end – no information available.

Places like Kerguelen and Bouvet were my friends for a very long time before I actually got to know much about them. I had a pen pal in Tasmania in 1959 for a year or so.

On uninhabited Ducie Island - 1999Since then, I’ve actually been to a few of these islands such as Juan Fernandez, Easter, Pitcairn, Ducie and Henderson and, with luck, I’ll set foot on a few more before I’m done.

But, that’s not why I’m writing this piece and I’ve only told you all of this to provide some general background so you’ll have a sense of how I might have come up with the information. Svalbard Archipelago north of Norway

This piece is about the Svalbard Archipelago and The Treaty of Svalbard and what it means to the citizens of 39 countries. if that’s not obscure enough for you, please raise your hand now – you have permission to leave.

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In 1925, the League of Nations Treaty of Svalbard came into effect. It was called, “Treaty between Norway, the USA, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland and the British Overseas Dominions and Sweden with regard to Svalbard”.

Nice, you say? Well, don’t laugh yet.

You see, the Svalbard Islands, which are north of Norway in the arctic, are one of the very few places in the world, which are truly international territory. Read the following to get the drift:

Svalbard is part of Norway

The treaty establishes Norway’s full and undivided sovereignty over Svalbard. Svalbard is part of the Kingdom of Norway, and it is Norway that ratifies and enforces the legislation that is to apply for the archipelago. Nevertheless, the treaty does include some conditions restricting the enactment of Norwegian sovereignty, and Norwegian authorities are required to see to it that Norwegian legislation and administration respect these conditions.


Citizens and companies from all treaty nations enjoy the same right of access to and residence in Svalbard. Right to fish, hunt or undertake any kind of maritime, industrial, mining or trade activity are granted to them all on equal terms. All activity is subject to the legislation adopted by Norwegian authorities, but there may be no preferential treatment on the basis of nationality.

Parties to the Treaty

A total of 39 countries are registered as parties to the Svalbard treaty: Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iceland, Italy, Japan, China, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa, Germany, Hungary, the USA, Venezuela, Austria.

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Postscript: I don’t want to make it sound like anyone can just throw some clothes and a warm coat into a rucksack and take off to Svalbard to live. While the Norwegian government cannot restrict access to Svalbard according to one’s nationality (for those from the 39 signatory nations), it can and does impose rules for residence in Svalbard that affect everyone equally. These rules are quite strong and are intended to protect the environment. You can read about them here:

Given the harshness of the climate, the limited economic opportunities there and the strong regulations about what can and cannot be done, it could be quite difficult to relocate to Svalbard unless you had a lot of financial resources and a strong desire to do so.

– Thanks to Ingunn at the Spitsbergen Airship Museum for much of the information I used to write this piece.