Directed by: Sandy McLeod
Thought of as the Noah’s Ark of plants, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a vault buried 390 feet into the sandstone of the Artic Svalbard archipelago in Norway, about 810 miles away from the North Pole. The vault currently holds more than 830,000 seed varieties and counting. How this treasure chest of seeds came to be is the subject of a six year-in-the-making documentary directed by Sandy McLeod which features the crop crusader, Cary Fowler.
The subject of seeds could be very dry indeed but McLeod takes a grass roots approach by featuring communities impacted by climate change, such as in Peru. There the variety of potatoes has declined precipitously as global warming means potatoes grow only higher and higher up the Andes mountains, losing varieties that prefer lower elevations. Different indigenous communities overcame cultural differences to work together to create a potato park, where the many varieties are again grown. Many countries have seed banks or repositories but natural disasters have destroyed them, like a typhoon in the Philippines and flooding in Thailand. Iraq’s bank of ancient wheat, barley and other grains was looted during war. Fowler traverses the globe organizing the collection of seeds and raising awareness of the need to prepare for catastrophic loss of crops, whether it is from a natural disaster like a meteor, climate change or man. The impact of genetically modified crops was not addressed in the film.
Back in 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the vault initiative with a $30 million grant plus $7,5 million from Norway. The project to build the vault and collect the seeds was undertaken by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the United Nations Foundation.