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ICARDA returns seeds for tomorrow to Svalbard Vault

Feb 12,2017

February 10, 2016 – ICARDA has sent more than 15,000 precious seeds back to the Seed Vault in Svalbard being deposited on the 22 February 2017 for eternal safekeeping in the arctic permafrost. The journey is part of ICARDA’s long-term mission of reconstituting its active gene collection in Lebanon and Morocco, a crucial resource to cope with climate change in the world’s dry areas.

The shipments from Svalbard to Morocco and Lebanon and back have been entirely funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust), who is also a partner in the operation of the Seed Vault with the Government of Norway and NordGen. The successful cooperation between the Global Crop Trust and ICARDA is historic in demonstrating a functional safe-to-fail setting for global crop diversity.

“We are very happy and proud having demonstrated that it is possible to rely on our gene banks and their safety duplications, no matter what circumstances affect them” says Dr Ahmed Amri, the ICARDA Head of Genetic Resources. “Without the ongoing support from our partners, also in the host countries Lebanon and Morocco, we could not fulfil to answer requests for crop diversity from breeders and researchers, who are looking to develop and test new, resilient crop varieties.”

ICARDA was globally the first organization ever to have withdrawn its seeds from the Svalbard Vault – a facility that preserves seeds for posterity. ICARDA’s seeds were originally stored at its genebank in Aleppo, Syria. The war in Syria had made it impossible for ICARDA to ensure that material from the genebank can be regenerated and distributed to users around the world.

The seeds in ICARDA’s care are an important collection with 65 percent as unique landraces and wild relatives of major dryland food crops of cereals, legumes and forages. Many wild varieties from arid regions have traits that may help crops to meet the challenges posed by climate change, including resistance to drought, heat and pests, and adaptations to salinity.

ICARDA’s genebank holds in trust a collection of 15,300 accessions coming from regions such as the ‘Fertile Crescent’ in Western Asia, the Abyssinian highlands in Ethiopia and the Nile Valley where earliest known crop domestication practices were recorded in civilization. These ancient varieties have developed naturally robust genes from thousands of years of survival, adaptation and evolution – a valuable genetic resource securing diverse crop development for the future.

ICARDA used the seeds from the Svalbard Seed Vault to build up its active collection in its new expanded crop genebanks in Lebanon and Morocco. ICARDA received 38,000 different seed species from the Seed Vault to be multiplied in the cropping seasons 2016 and 2017. 18.000 accessions were multiplied already in 2016, including wheat for bread, durum wheat – which creates the basis for couscous, bulgur and pasta – as well as protein rich varieties of lentil, faba bean, chickpea and grass pea.

today’s commercial crop seed industry concentrates its efforts on a narrow genetic base, the public goods genetic materials from the ICARDA collection and other CGIAR international research centers are a critical resource for ensuring global food and nutrition security. The newly inaugurated ICARDA genebank in Terbol, Lebanon, provides collections that all countries and global breeding programs can use to develop new crop varieties that would improve yields, and can assist resource poor farmers for their livelihood development.

The Svalbard Seed Vault holds currently 880,000 samples of seeds from almost every country in the world. Two thousand more accessions will be sent back to the Vault in October 2017.