Seed banks have been a common activity going as far back as 8,000 B.C., when farmers realized they needed to protect their seeds to ensure the harvest for the next year. Seed banks were used to protect those seeds from extreme weather and animals.
Today’s seed banks are still quite important, but for primarily different reasons. The most essential reason we store seeds today is for crop diversity. Just as humans and animals evolve over time, so do plants, and many plants have adapted to specific conditions. The corn grown in North America might not closely resemble the corn grown in Asia, for example.
Why Seed Banks Are So Important:
- Climate change: Many climate scientists are worried that climate change will cause extreme weather conditions that could eradicate some plants or bring new pests into environments, which in the long run could cause plants to go extinct.
- Disease: Diseases can quickly wipe out entire crops—one recently discovered strain of stem rust would be capable of infecting a quarter of the entire world’s wheat supply. Having a store of these seeds is a good insurance policy in such a scenario.
- Natural disaster: Major disasters can cause significant changes in a local ecosystem. After the 2004 tsunami destroyed Malaysian rice paddies, seed banks were able to provide farmers with rice seeds to help them restore their crops.
- War: War can be extremely devastating to plant life, but the seeds stored in seed banks can help to rejuvenate these war-torn regions.
- Research: Many types of plants are used to cure sickness, so having seeds in storage for research purposes means scientists can experiment with a wide variety of plant types for treating different diseases.
The use of seed banks to protect from the effects of climate change has already had its importance demonstrated in the arctic, where the world’s largest and most important seed bank, the Global Seed Vault, is located. Designed to be located deep inside the Arctic Circle in what amounts to a deep freeze for storing some of the world’s most precious seeds and ensure a long-lasting food supply, the vault’s entrance tunnel was recently flooded with meltwater. While the seeds themselves were not affected, it was a scary reminder of the damage climate change can inflict on global environments.
Contact the team at Soil Advocates to help with information about seed collection and the importance of seed banks.