While the Arctic is seen primarily as a place to harvest the earth’s resources, it is also the site of major efforts to preserve the earth’s riches for posterity. On the island of Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic, scientists are working hard to increase the number of seeds at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a gene bank where various strands of all sorts of crops are being stored to save them from extinction due to both manmade and natural catastrophes such as war and global warming.

Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News writes that scientists are well on their way to protecting 100,000 different varieties of plants from African cowpeas to South American eggplants in the so-called “Doomsday Vault.”  Thus, in this little corner of the Arctic where countries are racing to drill for oil, mine for minerals, and trawl for fish, they are also hurrying to scurry away seeds for the long and barren winter that may lie ahead.

Even this apparently noble cause to safeguard seeds for future generations is not without controversy. GRAIN, an international NGO, believes that the vault is “unjust” because it “takes seeds of unique plant varieties away from the farmers and communities who originally created, selected, protected and shared those seeds and makes them inaccessible to them.”

However, their criticism seems to overlook the true aim of the vault, which is not to control the world’s seeds, but rather to protect them from the perils created by both men and nature. Many seeds stored in vaults in Africa have already been destroyed or lost due to civil strife and unrest. Svalbard appears to be one of the most remote and safest refuges on earth, then, as long as the race for the Arctic does not escalate.

Background photo credit: Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Background photo credit: Mari Tefre/Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Illustration by Mia Bennett.

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