Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Seed Vaults and Food Security


When we see terms like 'security' and 'strategy,' we might think of armies and navies or missiles and satellites.  But what about seeds?

If people can feed themselves, they make a big step towards their own security.  They don't have to rely on imports of food, or trade partners raising prices, or shipments of food being hijacked.  However, crops suffer in the same situations that humans do.  When there are droughts, or wars, or flooding, crops can not only be damaged, but totally wiped out.

A seed vault is a safe storage area where seeds can be preserved for future use.  It's like putting your money in a bank rather than under your bed.  One of the best-known examples is the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway.  This vault is a simple, sturdy underground facility carved into the permafrost.

Svalbard's location, design and temperature make it an almost ideal place to store seeds.  It houses over 750,000 different types of seeds from countries around the world.  This is a significant percentage of the estimated 2,000,000 total types of distinct seeds held in the world's 1,400 seed banks.

If, for instance, a war in a country destroyed its rice crop, seeds from the vault could be used to start over.  However, storing only one type of rice would limit what farmers can do because different types grow better in different climates.  Some plants handle lack of rain better, or grow in sandier soil, or resist insects and diseases.  The more choices farmers have to work with, the better they can adapt to changing conditions and even tastes.

Maybe you have an apple tree or a fig tree in your yard that you enjoy.  Wouldn't you like to be able to grow a new tree if a storm knocked your favorite tree down?

If you could preserve a certain seed, what would you pick?

(Here's the site for the Svalbard Seed Vault.  I got the idea for the story from an article in the February 2013 issue of Popular Mechanics.  The pic is from the Svalbard site.)

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