When the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened to receive seed samples from the world’s gene banks, it received enormous attention from the global media and the public at large. That interest has not subsided. Those associated with the sector of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture have seen increased public awareness and commitment focused on contributing to safeguarding crop diversity.
For the general public
The Seed Vault often receives offers for seed donations and also offers of voluntary seed collecting and for voluntary work in different supporting projects. Yes, individuals can help. The Seed Vault is a facility for storing copies of seeds conserved long term in gene bank collections only.
However, individuals, associations and other plant enthusiasts can contribute to the cause of conserving crop diversity through active use of diverse seeds, through seed-saving associations, by cooperating with national gene banks and research institutes, and by reminding their politicians of the importance of conserving genetic diversity.
The rich genetic diversity of crops present in agriculture and in gene bank collections is to the credit of farmers, hobby growers and plant enthusiasts who, for millennia, have taken care of and multiplied seeds of cultivated plants all over the world. This fact is acknowledged in the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and other regional and global documents.
Material still to be conserved
Although seed collections in gene banks around the world conserve millions of plant genotypes, scientists and gene bank managers are well aware that a lot of unique and valuable plant material is still not conserved. Such valuable plants could be crop land races still in use among farmers, it could be plant varieties in use among amateurs and hobby growers, and it could be wild plant species related to crops and therefore valuable for future plant breeding.
National, regional and international gene banks, and breeding and research institutes and associations are working on conservation and use of genetic diversity of crop plants. Quite often, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault receives offers of seed donations. As the Seed Vault only conserves duplicates seeds from gene bank collections, any volunteer offers from individuals who have valuable seeds and plant varieties are encouraged to offer their material to the nearest gene bank, which presumably will have facilities for taking care of the seeds for long-term storing.
Once the seeds are conserved in a primary seed collection, the gene bank or institute can take advantage of space for security copies in the Seed Vault. In this way, valuable seeds from individuals can, in the end, become a part of the global back-up seed collection in the Seed Vault.
The Seed Vault appreciates, but unfortunately cannot accept offers for voluntary work, which are received quite often. The Seed Vault does not have a staff. It only requires personnel on the pre-arranged dates that the Vault is opened to receive seed deposits. Also, unlike other gene banks, there are no labs, no seed multiplication or investigation activities, and no distribution of seeds. Consequently, there are no positions available for volunteer workers.