[permaculture] Doomsday Seed Vault/Inter Press Service

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at intrex.net
Thu Mar 6 16:33:47 EST 2008

Seeds, Genetic Engineering, and Our Future   Today on On Point on NPR:


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [SANET-MG] Doomsday Seed Vault/Inter Press Service
Date: Thu, 6 Mar 2008 11:09:23 -0800
From: Michele Gale-Sinex <mgs2369 at COMCAST.NET>
Reply-To: Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group              <SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU>,
Michele Gale-Sinex <mgs2369 at COMCAST.NET>

Howdy, all--

 From IPS and Indian Proutist Keya Acharya, this
thinking--and dissent--around Cary Fowler's
heavily concentrated and corporatized
underpinnings to the Svalbard "global seed vault"
project. Which uses the Fort Knox/bank model,
rather than the "open source" approach of
dispersing the technology as wide as possible. In
other words, the model that gardeners have always

See the quote below by GREEN's Vanaja Ramprasad
for the knots n bulls of the issue. GRAIN also
weighs in.

Late last summer, /The New Yorker/'s John
Seabrook filed a lengthy article on the Svalbard

Inter Press Service, fyi:

It strikes me as a rather interesting--and not a
little racist--idea that any "doomsday" that
would so heavily afflict humanity...would somehow
spare Norway.



Published on Tuesday, March 4, 2008 by Inter Press Service

NGOs Wary of Doomsday Seed Vault

by Keya Acharya

BANGALORE - Agricultural non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in
India and elsewhere are criticising the newly-opened Global Seed Vault (GSV)
at Svalbard in Norway as fundamentally unjust in its objectives.0304 03

The Barcelona-based agriculture lobby, GRAIN, with branches in major
developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, says a serious
deficiency of the seed vault is that it deals basically with state and
private-body depositors to the bank, thereby excluding the rights of poor
farmers who cannot access these seeds.

GRAIN says the GSV's ex-situ storage system takes unique plant varieties
away from farming communities that originally created, selected, protected
and shared the seeds. Farmers, it holds, do not know how to access the
scientific and institutional framework involved in setting up the system and
are excluded.

"This system forgets that farmers are the world's original, and ongoing,
plant breeders," GRAIN's Asia Programme Officer, Shalini Bhutani, who is
based in New Delhi, told IPS.

Negotiating intellectual property and other rights over the seeds,
originally conserved by farmers, thus becomes the business of governments
and the seed industry itself, she says.

Decisions on the GSV will be taken by the Norwegian government, currently
regarded as trustworthy, but without guarantee that its policies will
change. It has a ten-year agreement with depositors that included clauses
allowing them to be terminated if policies change.

Management of the GSV is spelled out in a tripartite agreement between the
Norwegian government, the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) and the Nordic
Genetic Resource Centre, a cooperative effort of the Nordic countries.

GRAIN alleges that decisions on the GSV will be shared with the GCDT, a
private entity with strong corporate funding which brings to the forefront
all the 'terrible controversies' over access to and benefits from global
agricultural biodiversity.

Trans-national seed corporations currently control over half of the world's
30 billion US dollar yearly seed market, buying up many public
plant-breeding programmes that have governments relinquishing control over
them. "The ultimate beneficiaries will thus be the very same corporations
that are at the roots of crop-diversity destruction," says a GRAIN

But Cary Fowler, head of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), in charge
of the GSV, says such criticism ''seriously misrepresents the purpose and
workings of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and portrays the GCDT in an
inaccurate, misleading and unflattering manner."

"The Seed Vault has been welcomed by over 165 countries and the Food and
Agricultural Organisations (FAO)'s Commission on Genetic Resources, and it
is already being used by developed and developing countries and by NGO seed
savers (though not by corporations)", said Fowler in an e-mail interview
with IPS.

The GSV built into the Arctic permafrost, with a natural temperature of
minus 6 degrees centigrade, some 1,000 km away from the North Pole, has
three cold rooms further cooled to minus 18 degrees C and is capable of
storing 4.5million batches of seeds.

Should some major disaster hit world agriculture, such as a nuclear war or a
natural disaster, countries could turn to what is popularly referred to as
the 'doomsday vault', to pull out seeds and restart food production.

But there are many who are unhappy with the GSV continuing with existing in
the science of agricultural conservation.

The Bangalore-based GREEN Foundation, which won the United Nations' Equator
Prize in 2004 for its work on seed conservation on farms through community
seed-bank networks, run mainly by women, says the vault's claim to protect
genetic biodiversity is more 'illusion than reality'.

"It is already a decade since the UNCED in Rio de Janeiro and the Convention
on Biological Diversity (CBD) realised that gene banks had their own
limitations, starting from major power breakdowns, to excluding farmers'
access to these banks, to realising that seeds conserved under freeze
conditions did not evolve when grown under changed environmental
conditions," Vanaja Ramprasad, founder-director of the GREEN Foundation told
IPS. "It is a sad commentary on the science behind the assumption that the
world's food is secure inside a freezer," she said.

NGOs like Green Foundation, GRAIN and the Hyderabad-based Deccan Development
Society believe that involving farmers to grow seeds in their field,
conserve and exchange these with others is the most secure method of
conserving genetic diversity and resources.

In the last ten years, says Ramprasad, there have been worldwide efforts to
collect germplasm and conserve them on farmers' fields, breaking the notion
that germplasm was meant only for breeding purposes. "This reinforced the
fact that in situ conservation of germplasm was not only the food security
of millions of the world's population, but also identified as imperative to
food sovereignty," she said.

The Hyderabad-based Deccan Development Society (DDS), working in rural
empowerment of poor dalit (the lowest caste in India's social hierarchy)
women, and conserving indigenous cereals such as millets, does not believe
that the scientific community can save crop diversity by cold-storage

"Global seed wealth can survive only in the farms and homes of global rural
communities. The GSV takes away these seeds from the farmer and breaks the
first link in the food chain," says P.V. Satheesh, founder of DDS.

A depositor in the GSV currently is the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), run under the FAO and has approximately 15
global gene banks holding the world's most widely-used food crops, under a
legal trusteeship arrangement on behalf of the international community.

GRAIN faults CGIAR's system as having excluded farmers totally from the
trusteeship, a system being linked with the GSV which will give the CGIAR
'almost exclusive' access to the vault's deposits.

Accessions from India and Asia are part of the collections from India's Rice
Research Institute and from the Hyderabad-based International Crop Research
Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), under the aegis of CGIAR, that
are to be locked in the GSV. "This vault is more the need of the
life-sciences industry, known for its 'pirating' of farmers' material and
traditional knowledge," said GRAIN's Bhutani.

An ICRISAT press note says that the organisation's participation in the
duplicate conservation of seeds in the vault gives increased protection to
global agriculture from climate change. But the seeds or germplasm to be
transferred by ICRISAT are those of hardy dryland sorghum, pearl millet,
chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and six small millets that can withstand
climate change.

Bhutani says that there are methods of conservation that should be adopted
along with this strategy, adding that there is nothing on offer to believe
that Svalbard will be invincible in its protection.

ICRISAT has given examples of protection offered through its 1,400-odd
genebanks currently in operation in various countries. It says sorghum
germplasm lost during civil wars in Ethiopia and Rwanda was replenished from
the collection stored in its genebanks.

GRAIN recommends that governments first support their national farmers and
markets, rather than international gene banks, leaving seeds in the hands of
local farmers with their innovative farming and seed-exchange practices.
Developing countries with agro-biodiversity assets need to safeguard their
farmers' interests before agreeing to corporate-controlled agricultural
agreements, it said.

Fowler said the GCDT endorses the view that ex-situ and in-situ conservation
are complementary.

© 2008 Inter Press Service

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