Endurance Athlete Michael Haddad to Deliver ICARDA Seeds to Svalbard

Published Date
June 01, 2022
Published by
ICARDA Communication Team
Dr. Hassan Machlab handing over the sealed seed packets to Michael Haddad in Terbol, Lebanon.
Dr. Hassan Machlab handing over the sealed seed packets to Michael Haddad in Terbol, Lebanon.

Today's special ceremony hosted at the American University in Beirut marked the first step in United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad's Arctic Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security, on June 7th, 2022, in Svalbard, Norway.

High-level representatives and officials from UNDP, the Norwegian Embassy, ICARDA, FAO, and AUB, spoke at length about the ongoing and future threats to food security at the event and during a panel discussion – in the presence of local, regional, and international media. Michael Haddad's vibrant message of hope and general bravery resonated throughout the ceremony.

Michael Haddad during his speech at AUB, on June 1st 2022
"A global food crisis looming and a serious climate emergency threatening our life on this planet may drive many to helplessness. But standing together in solidarity, we must maintain our hope in the future," said Michael Haddad from the AUB pulpit this morning.

Paralyzed from the chest down since the age of six after a tragic accident, Michael Haddad has been defying odds by becoming a terrific athlete.

Strapped in a state-of-the-art exoskeleton designed by AUB scientists and using crutches and a particular gait he has perfected over time, Michael has completed long, strenuous walks under challenging conditions for years, proving that humans can accomplish  extraordinarily feats when science is combined with an iron will. 

Consumed by worsening climate change conditions and their impacts - particularly on food security, Michael is embarking on his most ambitious walk yet  in the snow-capped island of Svalbard in Norway. 

On June 7th, Michael will carry multiple packets of ICARDA seeds of wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea, and forage crops tucked in his pockets and walk 5 kilometers to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the world's largest genebank embedded in the frozen ground. 


“Through the second Sustainable Development Goal, the world has committed to end hunger, achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture,” said Melanie Hauenstein, UNDP Resident Representative in Lebanon. “Fulfilling this promise requires concerted efforts to mitigate climate change, to curb rural poverty, and empower small farmers, especially women ”


Once Micahel reaches teh Svalbard vault, after four or five grueling hours of walking in the snow and on uneven terrain, he will deliver this 'Package of hope' during a small ceremony. The seeds will then be deposited with the rest of ICARDA's accessions.

Originating from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the State of Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, the seed samples were carefully selected by ICARDA's Genebank Manager in Lebanon, Dr. Mariana Yazbek, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Handed over in person to Michael by ICARDA Country Manager for Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, Dr. Hassan Machab, in Terbol last week, the seeds carry a vibrant message of hope. 

In the speech he delivered today during the sendoff ceremony, Dr. Machlab stressed that ICARDA, under CGIAR – the world's largest global agricultural innovation network – has worked with partners to deliver resilient livelihoods for over four decades to dryland family farmers across the region.

Dr. Hassan Machlab giving a speech at AUB
"We thank Michael for highlighting the importance of protecting precious, threatened agrobiodiversity, a key pillar of our work. His commitment is an inspiration to us all," Dr. Machlab added.

Alongside the precious seed packets, Michael Haddad will carry a limited edition of a book by Pope Francis as a symbolic seed of hope – to safe keep for posterity.