Seeds saved for Armageddon
by David Masters
February 5, 2008
On 26th February, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will open in Norway. The vault, set deep under the permenent frost in a mountain on a Norwegian island, is designed to store seeds indefinitely at a stable temperature.
The international seed bank has been built to safeguard the genetic diversity of the earth’s crop plants against the ravages of climate change, including natural disasters, extreme weather conditions, global warming, and nuclear war.
The first consignment of seeds for the vault arrived in Oslo this week, and will be shipped out in time for the vault’s official opening on 26th February.
The seeds were given by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Nigeria. A wide variety of African crop strains is represented, including soy bean, wild vigna, maize, black-eyed peas, and bambara.
IITA’s genebank manager, Dr Dominique Dumet, said that “the institute has the world’s largest and most diverse seed collection of cowpea with some 15,122 unique samples that come from 88 countries.
“IITA estimates that their genebank holds close to half of global cowpea [black-eyed pea] diversity and its collection contains about 70% landacres from Africa.”
Landacres are varieties of domestic plants and animals that have adapted themselves to local surroundings, and over many generations have built up natural resistance to the diseases and pests in the areas in which they are grown.
Black-eyed peas in particular are important for Africa because they grow well in dry soil, whilst keeping the soil healthy. It is a fast growing and nutritious crop.
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