Ghana becomes 100th depositor to safeguard key food crops in permafrost Seed Vault

genebank online
  24 October 2023 03:21pm

Today, Ghana becomes the 100th depositor to deposit seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an important step towards ensuring the long-term protection of the country’s major food crops.

Ghana joins 15 other institutions, including one other first-time depositor – the Bonn University Botanic Gardens (Germany) – in safeguarding duplicates of their seed collections inside the Vault.

Nestled in an Arctic mountain on the remote island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault safeguards over 1.2 million seed samples, making it the world’s largest collection of crop diversity at a single location. For 15 years, the Seed Vault has welcomed genebanks from across the world to conserve copies of their seed diversity. Following this latest deposit, the Seed Vault now holds crops from 74 countries. This diversity is needed to adapt agrifood systems to a rapidly changing climate and other environmental challenges.

The Ghanaian deposit comes from the Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-PGRRI). It includes maize, rice, eggplant and cowpea varieties, key crops for the country’s food security, health, and culinary culture.

“This, our very first safety back-up, provides a sense of relief that our collections of crop diversity are on the path to being secured in perpetuity for the benefit of all humanity. The backup also highlights the hard work of the current and past staff members of the Ghana genebank and the farmers from whom the seeds were originally collected,” said Daniel Kotey, Senior Research Scientist at CSIR-PGRRI. “We are very grateful to everyone who helped make this happen.”

CSIR-PGRRI is a partner of the Crop Trust’s five-year Seeds for Resilience project, funded by the Federal Government of Germany (BMZ), through the German Development Bank (KfW), along with the national genebanks of Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia. This October, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia are also sending back-ups of their collections.

“Today’s deposits mark a very significant moment in our commitment to safeguard global food supplies, and we are very proud to be working alongside so many excellent partners in this joint mission,” said Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust.

“We are extremely grateful to all of our partners, and in particular the Seeds for Resilience genebanks, as well as our donors from Germany and Norway, for supporting this vital work. Conserving the world’s crop diversity must continue.”

Representatives from Nigeria and Zambia will attend the deposit. “Kudos to Crop Trust and KfW for providing this support, which has allowed us to deposit our seeds in the Seed Vault, and for helping us take our national genebanks to international standards,” said Mayowa Olubiyi, Technical Assistant Director, representing the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Nigeria.

Joining the Seeds for Resilience African delegation in the Arctic Circle was Maximilian Weigend, Director of the Bonn University Botanic Gardens, which made its first deposit, including frost-hardy varieties of lettuce and savoy cabbage and tomato.

“Some of the seeds we are now placing in the Seed Vault represent very high-quality varieties ideally suited to local, low-energy, low-input production in Germany,” Wigend said. “The world needs to grow varieties such as these in order to maintain and increase both food production and food quality, sustainably.” ​​

Seeds have also arrived from Uruguay and Thailand to New Zealand and the Czech Republic. “Some of these seeds may hold characteristics that could aid farmers and researchers in developing improved crop varieties, ones that are better suited to the changing climate, for example being able to withstand heat, drought, and new pests and diseases,” said Kuldeep Singh, the genebank manager at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). “Caring for a plant genetic resource collection is a labour of love; it’s a responsibility that assures humanity preserves the rich heritage of crop diversity for generations to come. And safety duplication is an important part of that responsibility.”

The ICRISAT genebank, based in India, is one of the international genebanks that conserve and make available crop diversity under the FAO’s International Plant Treaty. This latest deposit has seen the genebank contribute 1300 samples of chickpea diversity from 47 different countries around the world.

As the climate crisis wreaks increasing havoc on food systems, and natural disasters and conflict compound the damage, protecting the world’s crops has never been more urgent.

“We at NordGen feel honoured that the world’s genebanks have shown such trust and support for our work with the Seed Vault. The fact that 100 different institutions have now decided to back up their valuable collections in Svalbard is great news for global food security, and we look forward to welcoming many more depositors in the future,” said Lise Lykke Steffensen, CEO of NordGen.