29/02/2016 06:17 GMT | Updated 25/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Inspiring Interview With the Global Crop Diversity Trust

Given the colourful clamour of bright and shiny food packaging on supermarket shelves, not to mention the influx of superfoods to hit the market, we could be forgiven for believing in a boundless supply of food ripe for our consumption, without ever questioning the environmental effects of our food or the journey it's taken from farms to supermarket shelves. According to Global Food Security, 40% of food consumed in the UK is imported and rests on a delicate chain of economic and environmental factors that affect the agricultural industry.

Pixibay / kpgolfpro

Agriculture is the foundation of food security in both the developing and the developed nations and it is essential for both countryside communities and city skyscraper dwellers worldwide. Plush pastures provide us with the environment to cultivate crops and rear livestock as well as trade to retain economic stability. Throughout history, from feudalism to capitalism, we have relied on agriculture as a means of subsistence and food security. The World Food Summit defined food security as having access to 'sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life'. When the issue of food security is so complex and heavily enmeshed with environmental, economic and political factors, what is the solution?

Flickr / Unsplash

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, also known as the 'doomsday vault' in Spitsbergen is one such project that fights for food security for all. The 'doomsday vault' is the mother vault, home to genetic replicates of the contents of over 1,400 seedbanks worldwide. Should original supplies be dissipated by disasters, natural or man-made, the Svalbard global seed vault can once again provide life should the need occur. It is here that around 860,000 seeds are squirreled away under this sparsely habited arctic island, a seemingly unlikely setting to situate one of the world's finite food security contingency plans.


To find out more about the issue of food security, I reached out to the organization behind the Svalbard global seed vault. The Global Crop Diversity Trust is the sole organization entrusted with the responsibility of the safeguarding and perpetuity of the world's most essential crops. Cierra Martin, Partnerships and Communications Fellow of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, discusses their aims, what inspires them and the importance of the fight for food security:

What inspires and motivates you as an organization?

"The fight to achieve food security and end hunger is one of the greatest challenges facing the world in the coming decades, but the hope of one day seeing it come to fruition provides the greatest source of inspiration and encouragement.

It has never been more critical to conserve crop diversity than it is right now. Rising populations, diminishing resources and deteriorating environments constantly reiterate the need to act now before it is too late.

A greater diversity of genetic resources in genebanks, available to all through an efficient global conservation system, will help to ensure a food secure world. Ensuring food security, adapting to climate change, safeguarding biodiversity, protecting nutritional security, reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable agriculture are just a few of the reasons why it matters to conserve crop diversity and are the things that motivate our team on a daily basis."

Flickr / Crop Trust

How important is it to educate others about food security?

"Extremely important. One in nine people on earth do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. Global food security can seem like such an overwhelming, enormous problem that I often think people avoid the issue in general because it seems hard to even know where to begin. However, securing the raw materials of our agriculture is a tangible starting point. It starts with a seed, and that's something that I think everyone can wrap their head around."

Flickr / Crop Trust

What kind of sustainable food choices can we make in our everyday lives?

"I would say the number one choice you can make every day to eat more sustainably is to think. We need to think about where our food comes from and the impact it has on the environment before we decide to eat it. If we're at least conscious of the processes at work, we can then be more mindful about our consumption and eat foods that were grown, raised or transported in a sustainable fashion.

To preserve crop diversity, or at the very least to keep a wider selection of it in the farmers' fields, we as consumers should seek out, taste and consume those crops and crop varieties that are not the staple ones found in all of our supermarkets. This could mean eating local varieties of fruits and vegetables grown by your local farmer or eating seasonally in a way that follows natural seasonal cycles.

It is really easy to become removed from our food system, but by actively thinking about our food choices and making small changes like these every day, you can make a difference."

Flickr / Crop Trust

How do current affairs impact the work that you do?

"What's going on around the world affects our work every single day. Despite their immeasurable value, crop collections around the globe are still at great risk. At the moment, much of the world's crop diversity is neither safely conserved, nor readily available to scientists and farmers who rely on it to adapt our crops to current and future challenges. Valuable genetic traits are at risk of becoming irretrievable, and the resources stored in seed banks are continually threatened from natural disasters, inadequate funding, war, civil strife, and even poor conservation conditions.

A good example of our work being put to the test occurred this past October when seeds were withdrawn from the Vault for the first time. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), previously domiciled in Aleppo, Syria withdrew 40,000 of its crop accessions from Svalbard in order to re-grow these crops in facilities in Lebanon and Morocco.

What this situation demonstrated was that the Vault can help overcome crises, in this case, war, that may threaten the most important crop collections that hold the precious answers to feeding current and future generations"

Flickr / Crop Trust

What are the Global Crop Diversity Trust's aims and aspirations for the future?

"The Crop Trust aims to create a global system for the conservation and use of crop diversity that runs efficiently and effectively to create a more food secure world. At the heart of our work is the Crop Diversity Endowment Fund, which will help us turn this dream into a reality. The fund allows the Crop Trust to create a permanent legacy of support for key international collections of crop diversity that are of critical importance to our food supply, now and in the future."

Flickr / Crop Trust

How can people get involved and support the Global Crop Diversity Trust in the fight for food security?

"Through the use of compelling images, the Global Crop Diversity Trust's #CropsInColor campaign highlights the genebanks that are busy conserving these collections of diversity around the world. It shows the plant breeders and their unbelievably challenging work, as well as the innovative farmers who are behind what goes onto our plates every day.

You can also make a difference by donating directly to our Endowment. This need not be a large sum, but if we all participate, we will assure the long-term safeguarding of crop diveristy now, before more is lost.

Another effective way to share the importance of conserving crop diversity would be to share our website, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo or Flickr pages on social media and encourage family and friends to follow our work."

Flickr / Crop Trust

By Nathalie Brand - Online Journalism Intern

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