The Svalbard World Seed Bank, something like the ‘plant Noah’s ark’, is a world scientific infrastructure that is located on an island in the arctic archipelago of Svalbard in Norway. It stores more than a million seed samples of different crops from almost every country in the world; the largest collection of agricultural biodiversity. “This material, also known as plant genetic resources, forms the basis of almost all of our food,” explains Luis Guasch, director of the Plant Genetic Resources Center of the INIA-CSIC.
His team has selected more than a thousand plant varieties from the national collection that will be deposited in this remote scientific infrastructure that houses the largest security collection of global agricultural biodiversity, which safeguards the world’s food base. For the first time, this installation will incorporate varieties from Spain, a country with a great wealth of biodiversity as it is a bridge between Europe, Latin America and Africa.
“The first 1,080 Spanish varieties are already prepared in INIA-CSIC freezers,” Guasch details. “Of these, 300 are winter cereals, 114 of which correspond to wheat; 510 are legumes, of which 189 are beans; 200 are horticultural, 81 of them tomatoes, and 108 varieties of corn”, he adds. The duration of the deposit is usually 10 years, renewable.
The deposit plan for the samples from the CRF base collection began more than six years ago, following meticulous work protocols, since in order for the samples to be recent and remain viable for as long as possible, perhaps hundreds of years , its multiplication in the field is required under suitable conditions, without crosses or mixtures with other varieties, maintaining the identity of the varieties.
The project is sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the international organization Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Norwegian government, which has made the installation a commitment to the conservation of plant genetic resources with a view to being able to meet the challenges posed by climate change and other potential global threats if need be.
The Spanish plant genetic resources conservation system established by Law 30/2006, of July 26, on seeds and nursery plants, is based on a system of duplicates or backup copies of active or exchange collections. The Plant Genetic Resources Center of the INIA-CSIC is in charge of the long-term conservation of entries or varieties in seed form. “Its objective is to keep the seeds alive, so periodic tests are established to monitor their viability, both in the CRF security collection and in the rest of the Spanish banks and, if necessary, they are multiplied or regenerated in the field”, indicates Guasch.
Sending part of the seed collection to the Svalbard Dome is not a replacement for this security system, but rather an additional protection mechanism. “Only once has it been necessary to go to the Svalvard bank to request seeds, on the occasion of regenerating the samples of the bank that existed in Syria, ICARDA, which was destroyed by the war,” recalls Guasch.
More than 89 repositories have already sent their samples to Svalbard, among them are the international conservation centers linked to the FAO, the large countries and the vast majority of European states.
At the time of the establishment of the Svalbard Dome, Spain made an extraordinary financial contribution to the FAO, through the Secretary of State for International Cooperation and Ibero-America (MAEC), and this is the first time that it has sent seeds. This agreement led by the INIA-CSIC shows Spain’s commitment to the conservation of biodiversity and underlines the actions carried out in the CRF to improve the resilience of agricultural systems and their ability to adapt to climate change.