Located in a remote, yet accessible location within a mountain under permafrost (permanently frozen layer) conditions, the Svalbard Seed Vault has a natural temperature of minus six degree centigrade (-6C). The vault is further cooled to -18C and is designed to provide ultimate secure protection against catastrophes to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
According to William Dar, director general, Icrisats participation in the duplicate conservation of seeds in the vault adds a special significance to the project - it gives increased protection to global agriculture from climate change. The seeds of germplasm that will be transferred by Icrisat are those of hardy dryland crops that can withstand climate change when it happens. These are the seeds of sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and six small millets.
Mandated to increase agricultural productivity in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, our crops have the ability to withstand the perils of climate variability and change, Dar said. Though a global disaster may or may not happen, seeds stored in genebanks (such as the one at Icrisat) are routinely used to re-start agriculture in areas affected by natural disasters and civil strife. For instance, sorghum germplasm lost during civil wars in Ethiopia and Rwanda was replenished from the collection stored in the Icrisat genebank. Icrisat repatriated germplasm to several countries: Botswana (sorghum), Iran (chickpea), Nepal (chickpea), Kenya (pigeonpea), Sudan (sorghum), Zambia (sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea, groundnut and finger millet), and India (all crops).
Icrisat will deposit seeds of 20,000 germplasm accessions in the first installment this year, which will be the first year of the five-year schedule during which the institute will transfer about 1,10,000 germplasm accessions. The Global Crop Diversity Trust, one of the agencies supporting the project and a partner of Icrisat, is providing the financial support for the transfer of sample.
The samples being sent to Svalbard are duplicates of the collection at Icrisats gene bank. Among the largest public-funded gene banks globally, the facility at Icrisats headquarters at Patancheru, India, holds 1,18,882 accessions of various crops, along with their wild relatives, representing 144 countries. Icrisats collection has benefited the crop improvement efforts of many national agricultural research systems.
Sixty-six germplasm accessions of various crops have been released directly as cultivators in 44 countries contributing to food security. In addition, a vast number of germplasm accessions distributed have been used as building blocks for numerous varieties and hybrids that are cultivated in many parts of the world.