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Hope in a Changing Climate
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway is much more than just a place to store seeds. It has been designed to withstand almost any disaster, and it could play a vital role in ensuring continued food supplies and biodiversity for future generations.
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Produced and Directed by Mirjam von Arx. Written and Directed by Katharina von Flotow. A production of ican films.

Find out more about the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

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Segment 1

By 2050 the temperatures worldwide are expected to rise by at least 2 degrees. This will cause major losses in food production -- as much as 30 percent in some places. By this time, global food demand will have doubled. How will we feed the world?
Seed Warriors
Longyearbyen, Norway. Close to the North Pole.
February 26th, 2008. Opening Ceremony, Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
JENS STOLTENBERG [Prime Minister of Norway]
Scientists and politicians had a wish: to make use of this harsh climate and these harsh conditions to serve humanity by providing secure storage for the seeds of the world.
JOSE MANUEL BAROSSO [President of the European Commission]
If there is a tragedy, a disaster in one of our countries, mainly in the developing countries, then they can come here. It is a back-up, a possibility to have these seeds to restore their crops.
CARY FOWLER [Executive Director, Global Crop Diversity Trust]
We have a fairly unique mission. Well, not fairly: it's completely unique. And that is to conserve the diversity of our crops, agricultural crops, forever. It's to figure out a system, install a system, and fund a system for conserving that part of biodiversity in perpetuity.
OLA WESTENSEN [Coordinator, Svalbard Global Seed Vault]
So it has become one of the world's absolutely biggest singular collections of crop diversity. We are not managing the seeds, we are only keeping them, like a bank box, if you want, for the gene banks that are actually out there in the countries working with agricultural researchers, and, eventually, with the farmers.
National Genebank of Kenya
ZACHARY MUTHAMIA [Director, National Genebank of Kenya]
When we had the political clashes it's happened that there was youths who came almost close to the Genebank, and if they had actually entered and they made some damage then it would have been very catastrophic. When we were approached by the Global Crop Diversity Trust we were more than happy to take that opportunity to duplicate some of our important materials in Svalbard. It's an idea that has come at the right time. The duplication is very important because it takes care of our back-up, it takes care of issues that in case something happens to our regional set of germplasm, you can go back to your duplicate set.
MARIANNE BANZIGER [Director, Global Maize Program, CIMMYT]
I'm responsible for the international public research on maize in this world; maize is the most, is the globally most important crop, the crop with the largest production worldwide. We have other issues coming up like scarcity of land, of water, and fertilizer. And if I look ahead, I have sleepless nights over what happens in 10 to 20 years when the scarcity of water, the scarcity of fertilizer, land, really hits us, on top of climatic change. These maize rows, each row is a different variety, yeah? They have about 20 plants. So this is a different variety from this one. And this maize hasn't received any water since it was about this tall. So imagine you have 10 percent of the plants, you have drought, and only 10 percent of the plants have ears. You have to eat for two months?
Yes, one bag probably, or a half.
Yeah, that wouldn't feed your family for long. You have in that field, you have this variety, you have on two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve cobs, you have six times more yield. This would bring you through the year, simply because you grow a different variety. A lot of the varieties that are in the seed vault, we know very, very little about them. We don't know, are they resistant against certain diseases? Are they drought tolerant? Drought tolerance is a complex trait, we have them characterized for what type of drought tolerance do they carry? So essentially, what we have is a black box, the vault is a black box. We know we have a large diversity, but it's completely uncharacterized.
One year after the opening
Do you feel on this first anniversary this is a special day in a way for the whole world?
DAVID BATTISTI [Climatologist, University of Washington]
Huge, huge, huge. One is because I think it's one of the few very tangible, very visible things that shows a sense of cooperation and the vision you need to do this, because you can't be thinking short-term. It can't be one politician's political cycle, like, what can I do now to keep, to be elected? This is something that has to be planned out now, that's got to be carried out over several human generations. And I think the last time, you think about that, where people had to think that far in advance what they were going to do, you're talking about building the pyramids or building St. Peter's. I mean, these are things that are planned on scales that are crossing human generations, and we don't do that any more. So this is, I think, the first visible sign that that's what's required.