Ali Shehadeh (right) just identified the same seed boxes that he personally sent to the Seed Vault from ICARDA in Aleppo, Syria in 2013 and 2014. Here together with Åsmund Asdal from NordGen. Now the seeds are sent back to Terbol in Lebanon for multiplication.
Ali Shehadeh is Rangeland and Pasture Germplasm Curator at ICARDA in Genetic Resources Section at ICARDA in Terbol, Lebanon, and travelled to Svalbard this week to assist NordGen staff in identifying seed boxes to be brought out of the Seed Vault and returned to ICARDA.
— We are so happy that we were foresighted enough to secure our valuable seed collection in Svalbard, and that we are able to get viable seeds of good quality back now.
— Aleppo was a beautiful and peaceful city when we started to send seeds
to Svalbard in 2008, and no one could imagine what struggles were laying ahead. This conflict really learned us a lesson about how fast things can change, he says.
— I would really urge all gene banks having copies of their unique seed accessions secured in the Seed Vault, and our withdrawal of seeds in 2015 proved that the seeds in the Vault kept viable perfectly.
ICARDA (The International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas) has systematically duplicated their seed collections in Svalbard Global Seed Vault. When the conflict hit Aleppo severely in 2014 the ICARDA gene bank outside the city was unaccessible. Due to the unable to aceess to the gene bank in Aleppo, ICARDA decided to establish new gene bank collections in Terbol in Lebanon and in Rabat in Morocco, based on seed duplicates that had been conserved in the Seed Vault.
The first withdrawal of seeds was conducted in September 2015, also then in cooperation with the Global Crop Diversity Trust. A total of 38073
seed accessions arrived safely in Lebanon and Morocco in good condition, and were sown already in November 2015. The crops within these 128 seed boxes were a mixture of cereals, legumes and forage crops. New seeds of annual cereals and legumes were harvested in 2016 and fresh seeds of 15160 accessions were re-deposited in Svalbard already in February this year.
— Now, in the beginning of September, we are able to ship 7511 more accessions from the seed harvest in 2016 to Svalbard for security storage. These samples are both accessions that have been conserved in the Seed Vault before and some new samples that so far have not been secured in the Vault. Ali Shehadeh tells that most of the seeds are of different crops; wheat, barley, faba bean and some are grasspeas.
— In addition we are sending more than 2000 different accessions of chickpeas (Cicer arietinum), a high protein legume crop of significant importance for food supplies in the Middle East through several millenniums, explains Shehadeh. Together with these new chickpea seed samples, there are more than 27000 pouches containing chickpeas in the Seed Vault.
During the period from 2008 to 2014 ICARDA deposited 116484 duplicate seed samples in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. This second withdrawal of deposited seeds contains 54354 samples, and together with the samples returned in 2015, ICARDA has now got about 78% of its initial seed collection in Svalbard back.
Ali Shehadeh explains that ICARDA is planning to withdraw all its deposited seeds from the Seed Vault, produce new seeds and bring new samples back to Svalbard for security storage.
— This program for establishing new well functioning gene bank collections at ICARDA units in Lebanon and Morocco and have them secured in Svalbard will probably take more than ten years.
— This requires a significant amount of work, involving several staff and costing a lot of resources. However, compared to the value of these seeds for future food supplies for humanity, the costs are small, says Ali Shehadeh, before he returns to Terbol in Lebanon, in time to receive the 67 seed boxes when they arrive and prepare for sowing the seeds in the coming months.