Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Cary Fowler's Vanity Project and the Greatest Scam Since the Dawn of Agriculture [part 3/3]

So with part 1 in this series having explained how the Svalbard Global Seed Vault might be even less secure than what's been recently conveyed by the popular press, and with part 2 having relayed just two of which could have been many more statements that might cajole somebody into questioning the motivations behind the Svalbard Global Seed Vault itself, a not-quite undeserved query to come about from all this might therefore be something along the lines of "What then could the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault effectively be?"

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Interesting post, though it sounds like you are quite emotionally involved in the whole Svalbard controversy. I have a hard time seeing it as a big deal one way or the other.

If the limits to the global industrial economy (including industrial agriculture) are fast approaching, the Svalbard vault will become irrelevant to either the farmers trying to live through those coming limits or to the seed patenting companies like Syngenta and others. If industrial civilization ends, canoeing up to Svalbard and grabbing some seeds will be the last thing anyone would want to do.

I can see Svalbard having possible use only if industrial agriculture continues, a novel blight wipes out a staple crop entirely and there is no way to find enough seeds to start a program of breeding in resistance to the blight (or even creating resistance by genetic modification). This is not a plausible scenario.

If we assume that civilization continues, there must surely be cheaper and more convenient ways to save seeds. Why wouldn’t a seed saver just keep seeds in a couple of freezers at hand rather than shipping them all the way to Svalbard? Sure, perma-frost is permanently frosty, but with a back-up generator a freezer is good enough. Besides, aren’t seeds supposed to be rotated through storage every few years anyway?

I must be missing something crucial, because lots of seeds have been placed in the vault in Svalbard by many different entities. If you have talked to some of the folks who use Svalbard, what have they said about their reasons for doing so?

First off, sorry about the late response. I’ve been doing many revisions to several aspects of FF2F’s back-end (which will be made obvious in the next few posts) and something must have been affected which rendered the email notification I’d normally get moot (although I can’t see what to be honest). I’ve only fortuitously come across your comment by accident due to my late coding of the RSS feed for this post, so in regards to what you said –

No, unless The Land Institute has seeds stored away in Svalbard then I certainly haven’t talked to anybody who has seeds stashed away there.

In regards to the Vault’s relevance, and working off of the hypothetical situation(s) I offered, I suppose that such a thing would come about due to an overall slow collapse of industrial civilisation and by extension of industrial agriculture in general (which is the scenario I’m increasingly gravitating towards). To parallel it with our monetary situation, countries and people will be continually triaged out of industrial agriculture as the attempt is made to extend and pretend. As this could go on for decades, and with climate change probably getting a whole lot worse, I imagine that with access to seeds quite possibly becoming a contentious issue that Svalbard could be used as a device for Syngenta et. al. to continue business industrial agriculture as usual via the access to and usage of seeds they may not be able to access via conventional methods, and which they’ll need for the new climatic conditions.

In other words, will Svalbard have relevance in the long term? Not so much. But in the near-term, and as things (relatively slowly) wind down? I imagine so.

In regards to your last two paragraphs, yes, the methods of seed saving you outlined are good enough in comparison, but Svalbard’s pitch isn’t that of a cheaper or better method to save seeds (so as to allow for genebanks and such to be retired), but rather as the backup to the backups. That is, not as a way to save seeds so much as a way to save the seeds of genebanks and such (or so gets said). And in regards to seeds in storage needing to be rotated, yes, Svalbard does allow for depositors to send in new samples of their seed in order to supply rejuvinated backups.

Sorry if my response is essentially a rehash of what I’ve already written.

Thanks for your reply.

I still think that Svalbard is a lot of fuss for a “backup to the backups”. In a slow decline situation in which industrial agriculture still continues at ever-declining productive levels, there will still be the resources available for local seeds to be saved and exchanged. In a fast decline situation Svalbard will be totally irrelevant. Either way, I see little chance it will be useful. That’s why I wondered about the current users of Svalbard. There must be some reason why they think it prudent to send their seeds there. I just can’t imagine what that reason is.

I think the reasoning for depositors is essentially “why not? It can’t hurt to have another backup.”

Regarding your comment that “Svalbard is a lot of fuss”, I’m not sure what you mean there. As in Svalbard isn’t really all that important to be paying attention to, or it’s a lot of resources that went into creating a redundant backup?

I just meant that Svalbard is a big, expensive project for what appears to me to be little or no real benefit to anyone except its builders and managers. It’s worth paying attention to the waste involved and as a cautionary example of not thinking things through. Your post detailing the history of the project is pretty convincing for me that it is something that was never needed. Except as an example of a big mistake that should never be repeated, it should be ignored.

Gotcha. And yeah, that’s a good way of shortening down 15,000 or so words. :wink: