By George Grow
Broadcast: Tuesday, February 07, 2006
This is Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
The government of Norway is planning to build an unusual storage center on an island in the Arctic Ocean. The place would be large enough to hold about two million seeds. The goal is to represent all crops known to scientists. The British magazine New Scientist published details of the plan last month.
The structure will be designed to protect the world's food supply against nuclear war, climate change and other possible threats. It will be built in a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The mountain is less than one thousand kilometers from the North Pole, the northernmost position on Earth.
An international group called the Global Crop Diversity Trust is working on the project. The director of the group, Cary Fowler, spoke to New Scientist. He said the project would let the world rebuild agriculture if, in his words, "the worst came to the worst."
Norway is expected to start work next year. The project is expected to cost three million dollars. Workers will drill deep in the side of a sandstone mountain. Temperatures in the area never rise above zero degrees Celsius. The seeds will be protected behind concrete walls a meter thick and high-security doors.
The magazine report says the collection will represent the products of ten thousand years of farming. Most of the seeds at first will come from collections at seed banks in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
To last a long time, seeds need to be kept in very low temperatures. Workers will not be present all the time. But they plan to replace the air inside the storage space each winter. Winter temperatures on the island are about eighteen degrees below zero Celsius. The cold weather would protect the seeds even if the air could not be replaced.
Mister Fowler says the proposed structure will be the "world's most secure gene bank." He says the plant seeds would only be used when all other seeds are gone for some reason.
Norway first proposed the idea in the nineteen eighties. But security concerns delayed the plan. At that time, the Soviet Union was permitted use of Spitsbergen.
New Scientist says the plan won United Nations approval in October at a meeting in Rome of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by George Grow. Internet users can read and listen to our reports at voaspecialenglish.com. This is Shep O'Neal.