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Seed vault in Arctic is mankind's 'insurance policy': project leader

by Staff Writers
Longyearbyen, Norway (AFP) Feb 26, 2008
An airtight vault carved into the Arctic permafrost and filled with samples of the world's most important seeds is an insurance policy for mankind, according to the project head.

"We're going to be having new climate conditions, (and) pests and diseases continue to evolve and mutate and they mount ever better attacks against our crops," Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and project mastermind told AFP ahead of vault's inauguration on Tuesday.

The vault is made up of three spacious cold chambers inside a remote Arctic mountain some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the North Pole.

It has the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million batches of seeds from all known varieties of the planet's main food crops, making it possible to re-establish plants if they disappear from their natural environment or are obliterated by major disasters.

Fowler said there was a need for gene banks around the world that can directly supply plant breeders and researchers with the diversity they need.

The global seed vault in Arctic archipelago of Svalbard "is the back up, this is the insurance policy," he said.

Biodiversity is important because "that is what will enable those crops and all the rest of the crops in the world to adapt to new conditions."

"If we don't have diversity in our agricultural crops, agriculture comes to a standstill and dies."

"We need to improve production and nutrition and we probably need crops that are more drought resistant, that can produce yield without using so much water, and that use less fertilisers ... based on natural gas," Fowler said.

While the general public is well aware of the threat of extinction to animal species, far fewer are aware of the risk of crop extinction.

With whales or tigers or polar bears, "you can look at them in the eye and you can be very empathetic. But you can't do that with a wheat variety or carrot variety."

"The emotion is not there even though that's a very important natural resource for human beings," he said.

"We're losing that diversity every single day."

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Rising prices could force UN to cut food aid: WFP chief
London (AFP) Feb 25, 2008
The United Nations agency in charge of alleviating world hunger will be forced to consider rationing food aid because of rising prices, its executive director said in an interview published Monday.

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