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Agricultural biodiversity: Banking against Doomsday | The Economist

Gene banks represent an overdue push to preserve crop biodiversity. It also needs conserving on farms

WITH a heavy clunk, the steel outer doors of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault closed on February 28th, shutting out a howling Arctic gale and entombing a tonne of new arrivals: 25,000 seed samples from America, Colombia, Costa Rica, Tajikistan, Armenia and Syria. For Cary Fowler, the vault’s American architect, the Syrian chickpeas and fava beans were especially welcome.

Opened in 2008, the Svalbard vault is a backup for the world’s 1,750 seed banks, storehouses of agricultural biodiversity. To illustrate the need for it, the Philippines’ national seed bank was destroyed by fire in January, six years after it was damaged by flooding. Those of Afghanistan and Iraq were destroyed in recent wars. Should the conflict in Syria reach that country’s richest store, in Aleppo, the damage would now be less. Some 110,000 Syrian seed samples are now in the Svalbard vault, out of around 750,000 samples in all. “When I see this,” says Mr Fowler, looking lovingly at his latest consignment, “I just think, ‘thank goodness, they’re safe.’”

For more on this story, visit: Agricultural biodiversity: Banking against Doomsday | The Economist.

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