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Svalbard Global Seed Vault
: Looking toward the future, the newly appointed International Advisory Council held its first meeting within hours of the official opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. According to its Terms of Reference, the International Advisory Council shall advise the Government of Norway on a wide range of policy, management and operational issues related to the Seed Vault. The ten-member Council consists of the most eminent leaders in the field of plant genetic diversity, including  Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, who was chosen chair of the Council and Jean Hanson of the International Livestock Research Institute, who was chosen co-chair. 

Back from left: David  Williams, Jessica Kathle, Jean Hanson, Cary Fowler, Godfrey Mwila, Shivaji Pandey, Grethe Evjen,
Front from left: Wilhelmina Pelegringa; Gunnvor Berge. 

Although the Seed Vault was designed with a very simple management plan for taking delivery of seed duplicates from seed banks at pre-designated times during the year, it is still an enormous international undertaking and the first such undertaking in history. Members of the Advisory Council will be able to maintain an overview of the Vault’s management and advise on any necessary management issues. They agreed to the importance of ensuring “trust and transparency” in the ongoing management.

With that in mind, the Council members were introduced to a series of legal documents that will guide operations of the Vault, including an agreement between the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Nordic Gene Bank (NordGen)that provides for the Vault’s funding, management and operation; and the standard agreement that is signed by those depositing seeds in the vault and by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food  that covers the actual depositing of seeds in the Vault. 

Members also were given a presentation of  the Vault’s new on-line seed portal by Ola Westengen, who is coordinating the Seed Vault on behalf of  NordGen. The portal gives public access to basic information about the seed samples conserved in the Vault and provides guidelines designed  to simplify the way depositors prepare inventories of the seeds they wish to deposit in the vault. 

Although the members of the Advisory Council had attended the opening ceremonies at the Seed Vault, they returned as part of  their meeting in order to inspect the ongoing processing of the 670 seed boxes received for the opening, the Vault’s construction and security as well as to have an in-person look at how the shipments of seeds are physically received, coded and stored in the Vault.  This included first-hand looks at temperature gauges that are not only put in the storage areas but also are imbedded in the rock walls so the temperature of the mountain itself can be monitored.

The Advisory Council role will discuss emerging issues in order to advise the Ministry and will be of great value to Vault management, namely the Crop Diversity Trust, the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Nordic Gene Bank (NordGen) on issues dealing with current and long term operations and management of the Vault. 

Terje Riis-Johansen, Norwegian Minister of Agriculture and Food said “the Advisory Council will serve a critical role in bringing the guidance of the scientific community to the management of the vault while also serving as messengers to the rest of the world.” 

In addition to Drs. Fowler and Hansen, other Council members are: Godfrey Mwila representing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, David E. Williams, of the System-wide Genetic Resources Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Shivaji Pandeyh of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Gunnvor Berge of the Norwegian research institute, Noragric, and Wilhelmina Pelegrina of SEARICE. In addition, Jessica Kathle of NordGen will serve as Secretary of the Council, and Grethe Evjen and Pal Vidar Sollie will represent  the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

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