Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the storage facility informally known as the ‘doomsday vault,’ houses seeds of plant varieties from around the globe in the frigid reaches of Norway. But this seed bank is not the only one of its type. National Geographic Magazine published an article, Food Ark, on seed diversity and preservation in its July 2011 issue. The article positions seed-saving institutions like the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, one of over 1,400 seed banks worldwide, not only as products of the growing interest among Americans and Europeans in heirloom crop varieties, but as custodians of the world’s future food supply.
Author Charles Siebert recounts the efforts of a smallholder farmer in Ethiopia to safeguard his family’s food supply and the foundation of modern seed banks by Russian botanist Nikolay Vavilov. During the turmoil of World War II, Vavilov Institute scientists believed so strongly in the importance of seed resources and diversity for the global food supply that several of them gave their lives to protect a collection of over 400,000 seed, root and fruit specimens. Similarly, during the 1984 famine in Ethiopia Jemal Mohammed and his family had to ultimately decide between the prospects of starvation and “eat[ing] their seeds, their future.”
Photo galleries, graphics and additional reading resources complete this issue’s feature on diversity.