The Doomsday Seed Vault?

Just 810 miles from the North Pole lies one of the strangest and and most secure facilities in the entire world…a global seed bank of epic proportions. Could it one day save the Earth? Or is it at the center of a sinister conspiracy to gain control of the world’s food production?

Front entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Bank

Front entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Bank
Photographed by Svalbard Global Seed Vault / Mari Tefre
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The  Svalbard Global Seed Bank Conspiracy?

In 1984, the Nordic Gene Bank entered an abandoned coal mine on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is located in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago. Inside the mine, they secured frozen seeds of various Nordic plants. The location was chosen due to a lack of tectonic activity in the area as well as the permafrost.

By 2006, after many years of collecting and depositing seed samples, the Seed Bank decided it needed a new location to store its growing treasure chest. This facility, called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, opened in 2008.

This seed bank cost $9 million to construct and is located within a sandstone mountain. At the present time, no research takes place within its walls. It’s just a vault, designed to duplicate existing seed banks from around the world. That way, if a regional seed bank is ruined via natural disaster, war, or in some other manner, it can be easily replenished.

Numerous high-security technologies protect the Vault from temperature fluctuations, changes in the sea level, and even terrorist attacks. It currently holds somewhere around 1.5 million seed samples with capacity to hold an additional 3 million samples. These seeds could last within the facility for several centuries, maybe even millennia.

Why do we need a Doomsday Seed Bank?

Collecting and preserving seeds has taken on increased importance these days, at least in the eyes of government officials and scientists. Specifically, fears over things like climate change, epidemics, and nuclear war, in the view of some, “creates the need for an inaccessible ark.”

“Seed saving and its role in preserving biodiversity is of utmost importance. We are in an era called the Holocene extinction, which is notable for its decline in biodiversity.” ~ Dornith Doherty, Photographer of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy, a seed morphologist, agrees.

“We are essentially up against a deadline to collect the seeds of plant species before they go extinct. The current worldwide economic crisis makes it difficult to raise the funds necessary for this kind of work.” ~ Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy

The Dark Side of the Doomsday Seed Bank?

However, there is a little known dark side to this story. The Vault is financially backed by a mix of governmental organizations and large corporations and foundations such as Monsanto Corporation, Syngenta Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Gates Foundation. While these groups claim to have pure motives, others are not so sure.

“The whole research agenda of countries like India is driven by what is dictated by outside agencies with vested interests; they are using state-of-the-art laboratories and trained scientists to work toward the production and distribution of genetically modified seeds.” ~ Sunita Rao, Adjunct Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment

Many researchers believe that Monsanto and other companies plan to use the Vault to eventually extend their control over the world’s food supply. And internal squabbles within the industry seem to bear this out. By gathering seeds from around the world and implementing international treaties, these companies will be able to conduct proprietary research with the purpose of creating and producing IP-protected, genetically modified seeds for all areas on earth. As you might expect, the money behind these seeds is immense.

“Monsanto, the corporate food giant with influence in the last three presidential administrations (including the current one), owns genes that can be found in 90% of America’s soy. Wind inevitably blows the seeds from Monsanto crops to those owned by smaller farmers, after which the company claims intellectual property rights over the land and forbids farmers to save seeds – a traditional agricultural practice – and even sues farmers for merely “encouraging” the violation of these patents.” ~ Anthony Gregory, Sustainable Living, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Urban Farms

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Even putting that aside, I have to admit I’m still highly skeptical of the so-called Doomsday Seed Vault at Svalbard. If one wants to protect plants from going extinct, I can think of no worse way to do that than to turn over control of regional seed banks to a single, centralized fortress. While I understand the need for redundant facilities, Svalbard seems ill suited to the task.

A series of regional, independent banks freely trading samples with each other seems far more likely to help unique seeds survive disasters. In the end, the best way to ensure the future of the earth’s seeds is not to restrict them to one place…it’s to set them free and to spread them as far as possible.

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