climate change / International / seeds / Syria

Doomsday “Rescue Seeds” Tapped from a Norwegian Global Strategic Vault

seedsIn a little discussed impact of war, the global store of strategic seed reserves has now been tapped by a Syrian seed bank. 

This sounds quite strange under the circumstances, but here’s how the Huffington Post wrote the story:

“The request to take out a small amount of the millions of total seeds from within the Svalbard Global Seed Vault [in Norway] comes from another gene bank, member of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, (ICARDA) which is currently based in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, but was previously headquartered in Syria. One reason gene banks exist is to provide breeders, scientists and farmers with seed varieties to improve crop growth and yields in the face of changing climates. Amid Syria’s brutal civil war, however, ICARDA has struggled to provide this function. As it’s become more and more difficult for the organization to handle requests for seeds from its former headquarters in Aleppo, spokesman Brian Lainoff of the Crop Trust that runs the Global Seed Vault explained that ICARDA has requested to get some of its deposits back from Svalbard. “ICARDA has worked extremely hard and with extreme dedication to try and do their best during this time,” Lainoff told The WorldPost. ICARDA’s requested seeds won’t go back to Syria, but to a safer location outside of the country.”


It’s unclear from the Huffington Post article who officially made the request? Was it the Assad government through the ICARDA or scientists affiliated with the organization? The circumstances and rationale in context are vague.

Seeds have been discovered in Ancient Egyptian tombs. They are a bedrock of civilization. The New Yorker magazine recently featured one of its typically fascinating stories about the decades-long infrastructure project to build a train tunnel under the Bosporus in Turkey.  (FYI–the train began operating in 2014.) The writer, Elif Batuman quoted Turkish archeologists (new accepted spelling,) as having sifted through two thousand sacks of Byzantine and Neolithic dirt– the detritus from excavating all the more obvious shards, dozens of ancient ships, oil lamps, ceramic, pottery and other objects– specifically in search of any remaining seeds. Sure enough, they discovered 8,000 year-old seeds which were carefully sorted, labeled and set aside for archaeologists.

The first time I learned about this global seed stock in a secret location in Norway (and other countries) was from a program on MHz Networks television.  See this image and description below.  You can read about the seed vaults on Wikipedia.

Fast forward to the 20th century, when the ethical and legal battle started over  Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds.  Monsanto and the Agri-Business lobby have sought to patent and own synthetic seeds in perpetuity. The course of this long-ongoing issue has been the subject of many investigations.

Several years ago, PBS aired a documentary about GMO, featuring the remarkable Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser who went broke fighting Monsanto whose GMO seed was “infecting” his crops.  He became another form of “pest” to Monsanto.  I was so moved by the gumption of this individual Canadian citizen–in his eighties–that I found his phone number online and called to thank him. When he came on the line, I told him that I wasn’t a lawyer, but simply wanted to thank him for his bravery, standing up for principle, against such a powerful company.  Having become a hero in Europe where there’s much more environmental regulation and vigilance about consumer exposure to such seeds, Schmeiser spoke of his invitations to speak in Europe and how he felt too tired to make those trips with his wife but that they’d traveled to several countries to accept awards.

For those of you who’ve been on debate teams.  Here’s Monsanto’s slick website debunking of the farmer’s story.  And here’s the Wikipedia entry on Farmer Percy.

Looking at the mass migration taking place now, as if war weren’t reason enough, the arid climate– with more and more of countries in the Middle East and North Africa seeing the desertification of their arable land– is increasingly recognized as a key predictor of global destabilization and conflict.  The American Defense Department now finally counts climate change and drought as strategic security threats; however, all this still hasn’t galvanized Congress to act and the “Denier” community is still thriving–many backed again by so-called Dark Money from big business.  At least the Pope had the nerve to call attention to climate change and demand action.  Beyond speeches and commitments, it remains to be seen if countries–including the United States– will take meaningful action to address global warming.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen Monday Feb. 25, 2008 in Longyearbyen, Norway. A

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen Monday Feb. 25, 2008 in Longyearbyen, Norway. A “doomsday” vault built to withstand an earthquake or nuclear strike is ready to open deep in the permafrost of an Arctic mountain, where it will protect millions of agriculture seeds from man-made and natural disasters. The vault is to be officially inaugurated on Tuesday, less than year after crews started drilling in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the North Pole. The vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples from around the globe, shielding them from climate change, wars, natural disasters and other threats. (AP Photo/John McConnico)


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