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ICARDA’s seed retrieval mission from Svalbard Seed Vault


Dr. Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General, explaining the importance of ICARDA’s genebank to Arwa Damon, CNN reporter

ICARDA retrieved part of its heritage seed collection that has been safely duplicated and stored in the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway, to fulfil requests for crop diversity from breeders, researchers and farmers around the world, so they can develop and test new strains to cope with a changing climate and new diseases.

The shipment containing 128 boxes with a total of 38,073 seed samples were sent to Lebanon and Morocco, ICARDA’s new sites for genebank facilities. Each sample will be planted and grown to multiply the seeds and re-establish ICARDA’s active collection so it can continue distributing germplasm to crop breeding scientists the world over and also return a portion back to the Seed Vault for safekeeping.

The seeds in ICARDA’s care are a sought-after globally important collection with 65 percent as unique landraces and wild relatives of cereals, legumes and forages collected from regions such as the ‘Fertile Crescent’ in Western Asia where the earliest known crop domestication practices were recorded in civilization, the Abyssinian highlands in Ethiopia and the Nile Valley, North Africa, Southern Europe and Central Asia. These ancient indigenous landraces have developed naturally robust genes that evolved over thousands of years of survival and adaptation to diverse agro-ecologies – a valuable resource for building climate resilience in crops.

A total of 57 boxes containing forages, faba beans, grasspea (lathyrus), and the wild relatives of cereals and pulses (8840 accessions) were sent to Lebanon and 71 boxes containing accessions of cultivated wheat, barley, lentil and chickpea (29,233 accessions) were sent to Morocco. ICARDA had replicated over 80% of its collection to Svalbard from its GeneBank in Aleppo, Syria after the conflict in the area made the regeneration and distribution activities not only difficult but impossible under the circumstances.

Expressing his delight at the successful retrieval of seeds, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General said, ‘ICARDA can continue to play a vital role in providing highly valuable genetic resources to our partners, particularly in the national programs and in the ongoing work to preserve crop diversity and meet the challenges we all face – natural and man-made – to feed future generations.’

The seed retrieval mission from Svalbard was accomplished in partnership and with support of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust), which operates the Seed Vault with the Government of Norway and NordGen.

The extensive media attention garnered by the seed retrieval – CNN, Newsweek, Al Jazeera, BBC, Popular Science, UPI and The Atlantic to name a few – underscored the global significance of the mission for the future of food security within changing climate.  

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