November 03, 2016

The (frozen) future of agriculture? Credit: Landbruks- og matdepartementet / Flickr creative commons

The town of Longyearbyen in Norway is so far north that it’s within the Arctic Circle. Whenever you leave, you’re required to carry a gun, just in case one of the 3,000 polar bears in the surrounding area gets an idea. And Carey Fowler, one of the founders of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and senior advisor to The Crop Trust, thinks that there’s no better place for a super-protected vault. He explains why seed preservation is so important.

Three Takeaways: 

  • If you care about national security, you should care about food security, says Fowler: “Years that are unusually hot are years where there’s problems with agricultural production. And in those years, food prices will go up. And those years are highly correlated with incidents of war and civil strife around the world.”  
  • Seed vaulters have a long and sometimes tragic history. During the Siege of Leningrad, 13 Russian scientists and seed collectors starved to death rather than eat their seeds: “The rice breeder died sitting at his desk, surrounded by bags of rice.”  
  • Fowler waxes poetic about the experience of walking into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: “Agriculture is about twelve to fifteen thousand years. And this is the product of twelve to fifteen thousand years of evolution, all of which involved our ancestors. These crops are domesticated. They co-evolved with human beings. So it’s kind of a history of agriculture in a way, but it’s also everything it can be in the future. And that’s humbling.”

More Reading

environment, Crop Trust, Cary Fowler, Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Kara Miller, WGBH, pri

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