The unanticipated breach in the “Doomsday Vault’s” defenses highlights the precarious state of food and seed security in the face of climate change.

First published on May 19, 2017 on USC Canada’s website.

Emerging news of flooding caused by the melting of permafrost at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault reaffirms more than ever the critical importance of keeping seed diversity in farmers’ hands.

“This is a facility that was built to stand the test of time and resist man-made and natural disasters,” says one of our two Executive Directors, Martin Settle.

“It is a relief to hear that none of the seeds in the collection have been harmed, but these events are far from reassuring. Climate change has already broken through the vault’s defenses, and these are the early days of permafrost melt. In the long term, how safe are the seeds?”

Nearly a million packets of seeds are stored at Svalbard. Each one of these is a unique crop variety, which is why conditions inside the vault must be so tightly controlled. USC Canada has been supportive of the intention to build Svalbard as a seed bank of last resorts. But we have also been working through our Seeds of Survival program for nearly three decades to also ensure seed diversity remains in farmers’ hands around the world.

“There is no single solution to conserving the genetic diversity we need to feed the planet,” says Jane Rabinowicz, our Executive Director.

“Here in Canada, our national gene bank, community seed collections, backyard gardens, farms, and researchers all have a role to play. USC Canada and its partners are doing critical work in keeping seed diversity alive and available to farmers, and in giving seeds the chance to adapt to changing conditions year after year.”

In farming, as in nature, diversity is the best insurance policy.

“There is no replacement for keeping seeds in the hands of farmers. We know the impacts of climate change are going to be unpredictable. Even the world’s best engineering may not be sufficient to protect humanity’s most precious heritage: our food crops,” adds Martin.

Luckily, there are communities of seed savers around the world who are building innovative ways of keeping seeds safe, within their communities. By saving these seeds, and making them accessible to their communities, these local networks of seed banks are not only hedging against the risk of catastrophic seed loss. They are also giving seeds the chance to adapt to changing conditions year after year – harnessing the capacity of biodiversity to ensure food security.