[ASC-list] First Australian Seeds to Arctic Vault

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Fri Feb 4 04:50:04 UTC 2011

The Crawford Fund 



4 February 2011

Contact: Cathy Reade 0413 575 934

cathy.reade at crawfordfund.org

Interviews possible prior to 11 February




An Australian farmer will soon leave the floods and heat of the Wimmera, don

protective clothing and go through a variety of quarantine and other safety
checks at a

remote frozen location in Norway to make the historical first deposit of
crop seeds from

Australia in the Arctic 'doomsday' seed vault. The seeds have already been
through the

hoops of national and international protocols and are waiting to be taken to
Svalbard on 16



"Like the seeds on their way to Svalbard, Australian farming has gone a long

considering all our food crops are exotic to this country. We have depended

completely on other countries for seeds to feed us and make us a major force
in global

agriculture," said Dr Tony Gregson, a member of the Crawford Fund board, who
will be

joined in Svalbard by Professor Edwina Cornish, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
(Research) at

Monash University and Mr James Choi, the Australian Ambassador to Norway.


"Like me, many Australian farmers have been dealing with extremes in weather
which are

harsh reminders of the need to research and have access to crops that can
adapt to

changing conditions and new pests and diseases," said Tony.


While Australia has only just organised its first shipment, it played an
important role in the

vault's establishment. Through AusAID and the Grains Research and

Corporation, Australia was one of the first countries to support the Global
Crop Diversity

Trust which operates the seed vault in partnership with the Norwegian
government and the

Nordic Genetic Resource Center in Sweden.


"Australia has been a generous and committed supporter of the Global Crop
Diversity Trust

from the beginning. Australia's unique geography means that, perhaps more
than any other

nation, it is acutely aware of how vulnerable agriculture is, and of the
vital importance of

crop diversity in confronting the challenges to each harvest. We are
thrilled that Australian

seeds will now be benefitting from the kind of protection which the Vault
provides," said Cary

Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.


"We have gained so much from other countries and generous public research
bodies that

have freely provided us with their seeds, and it's time we reciprocate. It's
satisfying to see

Australia start to improve arrangements so that our germplasm is safe and
more freely

available to the global scientific and agricultural communities," said Tony,
a grain grower

from Victoria's Wimmera region who has extensive national and international
experience in

biodiversity conservation for food security and is passionate about plant
genetic resource



"I hope that this first small shipment of Australian germplasm will be
followed by others so

that more of Australia's crops are safe. Australia also needs to move
towards secure funding

and better management of its own collections, and to living up to its
international treaty

obligations, to share its seeds globally and help feed the world," he said.


The Crawford Fund's mission is to increase Australia's engagement in
international agricultural

research, development and education for the benefit of developing countries
and Australia

"Just like the rest of the world's seed collections, ours are vulnerable to
a wide range of

threats such as natural catastrophes, and perhaps surprisingly in a
relatively wealthy

country like Australia, lack of adequate funding. For want of a
Federal/State agreement,

Australia has seen a number of its collections defunded."


The Australian deposit is coming from the Australian Temperate Field Crops
Collection in

Horsham Victoria. Our other collections are in Tamworth (Australian Winter

Collection), Perth (Australian Trifolium Genetic Resource Centre), and
Canberra (Australian

Indigenous Relatives of Crops Collection). The pasture collections in
Biloela (Australian

Tropical Crops and Forages Collection) and Adelaide (Australian Medicago

Resource Centre) have been mothballed.


Tony suggests a range of other activities to boost the Australian
contribution to global food

security and help shape the future of our own rural industries and the
communities they

support including:

. commitments to 50:50 governments:industry funding for Australia's
seedbanks, which

are currently facing underfunding and closure.

. appointment of a national co-ordinator of our genebanks, to be the
Australian focal point

for our collections who can serve organisational, management and advocacy

. establishment of a national database and authority for Australia's
implementation of the

International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,

cornerstone of global germplasm exchange.


"I would also like to see Australia commit to further collection of our
native and unique

genetic resources such as wild relatives of sorghum, rice and soybean that
will help in the

development of new crops in the face of climate change. Australia also has

significant forest tree species and our micro-organism, plant pathogen, and
insect pest

collections are all essential to Australia's status as a vibrant global food


As the Global Seed Vault nears its third anniversary, it is well on its way
to ensuring that one

day all of humanity's existing food crop varieties are safely protected in a

environment from any threat to agricultural production, natural or manmade.


Tony has worked internationally and in Australia on the policy frameworks to
conserve the

germplasm so important to farmers in Australia and worldwide. In addition to
his work on

food security with the Crawford Fund, he is Chairman of the CRC for
Molecular Plant

Breeding and Plant Health Australia, and immediate past-Chairman of

International and former board member of CIMMYT, the international maize and

research institute in Mexico which was responsible for breeding semi-dwarf
wheat varieties

that proved so productive in Australia's harsh conditions.


About the Vault

The seed vault was constructed deep in a mountain on a remote Norwegian
archipelago near

the North Pole as a fail-safe back-up to existing crop collections around
the world. Collections

are constantly under threat from wars and natural disasters but also small
but important

threats like lack of funding to pay for electricity to store seeds in
refrigerators. The seeds in

the vault are the property of the country or institution that sent them and
are available in the

public domain through these institutions. Crop collections around the world
serve the daily

needs of farmers and plant breeders in their work to find new traits that
can boost yields or

address problems posed by diseases, pests or shifting climate conditions.
You can find

further background on the seed vault at

And photos of the seed vault are at


NB: Tony Gregson leaves Australia on 11 February. For pre-departure
interviews or to make

arrangements to talk to Tony from Svalbard, contact Cathy Reade on
0413575934 prior to 10

February. Thereafter, contact Jeff Haskins on +254 729 871 422
jhaskins at burnesscommunications.com


Cathy Reade
Coordinator - Public Awareness
Crawford Fund
Ph/Fax: 07 54483095
Mobile: 0413 575 934

The Crawford Fund's mission is to increase Australia's engagement in
international agricultural research, development and education for the
benefit of developing countries and Australia.

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