Brazil sends seeds to world bank in Norway

The Genetic Resources and Biotechnology unit of Brazil’s agricultural research corporation Embrapa sent to Norway a shipment containing 3,438 genetic samples that will be deposited in the world’s largest seed bank, in Longyearbyen, in the arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The seeds will be transported to Oslo, then carried to Svalbard by a team from the bank, expected to store them on February 25.

Rosa Lía Barbieri, Embrapa’s curatorship and germplasm (living genetic resources) supervisor, will represent Brazil and monitor the deposit of the 11 boxes with the samples. She will represent the Americas at the meeting of the international panel that will validate and monitor the work at the Norwegian vault.

Embrapa has selected 3,037 samples of rice, 87 of corn, 119 of onion, 132 of Capsicum peppers, and 63 of Cucurbits (zucchini, squash, melon, cucumber, gherkin, quinoa, and watermelon), which are to be stored at a temperature between -18º and -20ºC.

“They represent a little of the diversity of Brazilian agriculture. It’s a little piece of Embrapa to be kept in safety there, as a way to make sure this material will be available for the population,” Barbieri told Agência Brasil on Friday (Jan. 10).

She explained that this material may only be accessed by Embrapa itself, and should work as a backup for the long-term preservation of the seeds, which have already been deposited in Brazilian banks. In addition to Brazil, at least 30 countries will store their seeds in Svalbard next month. The ceremony is expected to be attended by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Ark of vegetables

The Svalbard vault preserves seeds from other banks across the world in order to protect them from extinction and ensure people’s food security. In the event of a global catastrophe, this is where samples are kept for a new beginning of agriculture. Approximately 1 million frozen seeds have been placed inside the icy mountain, in maximum security chambers designed to resist climate change and nuclear explosions. The facility’s total storage capacity is 4.5 million seed samples.

The glacial climate of the Arctic ensures low temperatures even in case of power outages in the chambers, which are opened only three days a year. The reduced temperatures and humidity guarantee low metabolic activity, keeping the germination capacity of seeds preserved for centuries.

This is the third time Brazil sends seeds to Svalbard. In 2014, Embrapa sent 514 samples of beans, and 264 of corn, and 541 of rice in 2012. The initiative stems from a 2008 deal between Embrapa and the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

 A Embrapa, vinculada ao Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento, vai enviar para a Noruega 3.438 materiais genéticos que fazem parte do seu acervo para compor o maior banco mundial de sementes do mundo, o de Svalbard

Embrapa has selected 3,037 samples of rice, 87 of corn, 119 of onion, 132 of Capsicum peppers, and 63 of Cucurbits (zucchini, squash, melon, cucumber, gherkin, quinoa, and watermelon) – José Cruz/Agência Brasil

Brazilian bank

In the view of scientist Rosa Lía Barbieri, the presence of Embrapa in the Svalbard bank brings Brazil to a prominent spot on the global stage. “This participation is strategic for Brazil, as the country plays a leading role in gene resources in Latin America. It makes sense that we should show this to the world,” she argued.

Embrapa, in Brasília, also has a gene banks with roughly 130 thousand seed samples, in addition to microorganisms, semen, and embryos of animals—which make up the largest bank for gene resources in Latin America and the world’s fifth. The collection is chiefly directed at the conservation of active banks at other Embrapa units, where the field work is conducted, including tests and studies on seed properties and the handling of genetic resources as well as the multiplication of seeds to be shipped to international banks for requesting scientists and firms.

“This is the storage of Brazil’s richness and biodiversity. It’s one of the ways we can guarantee that Brazilian society will have food security later on. This is where Brazilian agriculture and forestry will turn to for genetic variability, if it proves necessary, in order to fight plagues and diseases that may come to assault Brazilian agriculture,” Embrapa President Celos Moretti said.

In 1995, for instance, the Krahôs indigenous people, of Tocantins state, resorted to Embrapa’s bank to retrieve primitive seeds of corn and peanut, as they failed to adapt to the commercial hybrid corn and no longer had the local strain.

Embrapa’s Genetic Resources and Biotechnology unit also boasts a public consultation system with everything that has been stored in its gene banks.

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