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ABC inside Svarlbard’s Global Seed Vault

Brett Worthington, Inside the vault, ABC News, 13 June 2024

A team of scientists on the front lines of climate change is helping nature heal itself. But as wars rage around them, it’s making their efforts to feed an increasingly hungry globe that much harder.

The grey triangular concrete juts into the air. Its sharp lines contrast a landscape where it’s hard to differentiate between the frozen surface and a clear, endless sky.

Sitting on Svalbard, in the Norwegian archipelago, the Global Seed Vault is as far north as a scheduled flight will take you. It makes it remote but still accessible.

Dubbed a doomsday vault, it’s essentially a Noah’s Ark for crops; an international backup to preserve humanity.

Double doors stand at the end of a gangplank that takes people deep inside the permafrost. From here, it’s just 120 metres into the frozen mountain to reach the foundations of global food supplies.

Inside are sealed, custom-made, three-ply foil packages that safely store 1.2 million seed samples from every country on Earth.

While a select few have entered the vaults to deliver seeds, just one person has ever felt the weight of taking seeds out.

Scientists fleeing war

“I knew how important it was to complete my mission,” says Athanasios Tsivelikas.

Tsivelikas, an agricultural researcher, was sent to Svalbard in 2015 on behalf of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) after the civil war forced his organisation to leave Syria.

ICARDA’s mission is to reduce poverty and enhance food, water and nutritional security in the face of global challenges. Its focus is on the developing world, where it hopes its research can help bolster crop yields, farmer incomes and ensure people have access to food where they live.

When Tsivelikas joined ICARDA in late 2012, the organisation had fled its base 30 kilometres south of Aleppo.

Dissatisfaction with President Bashar Al-Assad had prompted large pro-democracy rallies and protests across Syria, fuelled in part by the Arab Spring uprising.

Government crackdowns met resistance and soon civil war engulfed the country.

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