Pascal Derrien

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Excuse Me Can I Talk To You For A Minute or Back To Basi(c)s: The Svalbard Global Seed Vault


They thought they would have been quicker, it took them a while and a lot of efforts too, it is dark now but they finally made it, it’s minus 27 outside and their little ‘’expedition’’ is in front of the Svalbard Seed Vault somewhere on an isolated Arctic island off the coast of Norway. 

The party of six* including Norwegian guide Eirik Amundsen is closer to a motley crew rather than an elegant representation of the main agencies in Europe. Colombia, Palestine, France, UK and Ireland are among the nationalities composing this improbable squad. Ines Ramos from Colombia represents the OCDE, Mahmoud Awed is working with the UN in Palestine, Chris Horton is part of a Semi State Body Agency in UK, Professor Rich O ‘Neill is from Trinity College in Dublin while Pierre Augretton is a civil servant for the Environment Ministry in France. 

Pierre was summoned to join this small team less than 48 hours ago when the man he replaced took ill, in a typical French fashion Pierre’s English is not the best hence he did not bother reading the memo and other information attached to his itinerary except for the weather forecast and subsequent clothing recommendations. With this mind he takes the least opportunistic moment to ask some questions triggering an ackward discussion in a rather bizarre if not unusual setting. 

Pierre: Excuse me but what is this place?

Mahmoud: If you had bothered reading the memo I sent you, you would know that strictly speaking

‘’it is a fail-safe seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time and the challenge of natural and man-made disasters’’’

Pierre: Ah Ok and what is it made for?

Eirik: Ask Chris he knows everything about it and he talks like Wikipedia.  

Chris: Well my French friend ‘’TheSeed Vault represents the world’s largest collection of crop diversity.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault's mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional gene banks. While the popular press has emphasized its possible utility in the event of a major regional or global catastrophe, it will be more frequently accessed when gene banks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts, and natural disasters.

These events occur with some regularity. War and civil strife have a history of destroying some gene banks. The national seed bank of the Philippines was damaged by flooding and later destroyed by a fire; the seed banks of Afghanistan and Iraq have been lost completely. According to The Economist the Svalbard vault is a backup for the world's 1,750 seed banks, storehouses of agricultural biodiversity"

Pierre: You are teasing me? They have sent me here all the way from France for a bunch of seeds?

Ines: Pierre you know that while all this may seem very basic to you, agriculture has been the basis of our society and constitute the back bone of our sustainability efforts as a specie so despite technology, engineering innovation and various industrial revolutions this remains as one of the fundamental element of our survival, fail to understand that and you fail to understand the world around you.

Pierre: You guys are having me on, I struggle to understand how can this form the overarching principle of our civilization!!

Rich:Have you ever heard of the Irish Famine Pierre? If not let me tell you the following story but beforehand let me also stress out this is not an Irish legend!! Back in 1845 the crops failed, the Irish potato famine or the Great Hunger as it is also called killed one million Irish and forced another million to leave the country, so thanks to failing crops it gave Irish immigration to America and a profound impact on demographics of the island up to this day!! Perhaps you would not have had JFK if it was not for the famine and crop disease.

Pierre:Really! I did not know that, but well that was a long time ago, surely this is no longer the case?

Ines:Nunca mas, you are joking right!!

Mahmoud: ‘’Researchers in the middle east have

recently asked to withdraw a range of drought resistant crop seeds, including wheat, barley and grasses from the vault. They would usually get these seeds from a facility in Aleppo, Syria, but even if the seeds are still there, the scientists are unable to access them as a result of damage to the surrounding buildings caused by the war’’

At that point Mahmoud was keen to build further on his argument but got interrupted by Eirik who had concluded the final protocol steps allowing the group to gain entrance into the vault.

Eirik:OK guys it’s time to move, Pierre get in there first.

Eirik is proud enough that the Norwegian government has almost entirely funded the vault’s, he heard it was about approximately 45 million NOK (US $ 99 million) for the construction alone, Eirik is just a regular guy, he is not a scientist or an activist or any kind of politically conscious individual either but he cannot help thinking that surely the world must be in a sad state of affairs if you have to protect the seed of life in a 





Photo Credit

Caters News Agency 

* This is a made up story with made up characters (just in case :-)) but sadly or not the Vault is real

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