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Arctic Seed Vault Takes Shape Amid World Catastrophies

The underground “Noah’s Ark” is carved into the Arctic mountainside.
Photo: AFP

The Arctic Seed Vault
Norway's Survival Solution

Sept 20 (Reuters) - A vault in a mountainside cavern on Spitsbergen island around 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole is being prepared to store the world's crop seeds in case of disaster. Here are some key facts about the project:

* Funded partly by a $30 million grant from the Gates Foundation, the project is at the heart of an effort by the Global Crop Diversity Trust to safeguard strains of 21 essential crops, such as wheat, barley and rice.

* Norway is paying roughly $9 million to build the vault in the Svalbard archepelago, a habitat for polar bears.

* Starting with 200,000 samples when it opens in February, within the first year the cavern -- containing an electrically powered freezer to keep it at minus 18 degrees Celsius -- could hold around half a million samples. It will have capacity for around 4.5 million bar-coded seed samples in all.

* About 12 crops supply over 90 percent of human nutrition, and about 300 have historically been involved in world commerce.

* In the past 10 years, the Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust says seed collections have already been wiped out, for instance by a typhoon in the Philippines and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

* Not all seeds can be stored by freezing. Banana, the world's fourth or fifth most valuable crop, is one example. But Sorghum seeds could last about 19,500 years.

(Sources: World Crop Diversity Trust, Norwegian government)
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