On the Arctic tundra in Svalbard, Norway, about half-way between Oslo and the North Pole, there are no gardens, no trees. Yet, deep beneath this barren surface lies the largest concentration of agricultural diversity anywhere on Earth.
The angular, concrete structure seems more “modern art museum” than “seed storage vault.” It impresses even before entering.
American agriculturalist Cary Fowler heads this international effort to safeguard the sources of the world’s food supply -- one designed to outlast any disaster, and ultimately, all of us.
In one room there are seeds for more than 150,000 different varieties of wheat. “The most important thing is that it represents everything that wheat can be in the future,” Fowler said. “So, those different varieties have different traits; maybe one is higher protein and another one is resistant to a particular insect or disease. And we need that collection of traits, because we don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know what’s coming in the future, and we don’t know which of those traits will be useful or important.The project is funded by the Crop Trust, based in Bonn, Germany, and I admit that I find it reassuring that people have planned ahead in this way. As Malthus and many other writers over the years have reminded us, the bottom line question for human society is whether or not we can feed ourselves.