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Morocco joins seed depositors in global reserve

36 natural seed banks from different continents have recently deposited their seeds at Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the global food “safe” which collects duplicate samples of more than 5,000 plant species from around the world. Tuesday, Morocco was one of the depositary countries.

Morocco is one of the countries having deposited samples of their natural seeds with the World Seed Reserve of Svalbard (Norway), a scientific reference site known as the seed bank in the world. The deposit was made at a ceremony organized by the Norwegian Prime Minister and co-chair of the UN group of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defenders, Erna Solberg, in the presence of representatives from the countries concerned.

Among these countries, Morocco is represented for the first time, in this case by the National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA), which has a seed bank in the Settat region and which has now made its first deposit to Svalbard. This consisted of samples of coriander seeds, barley, lentils and wheat.

Save seeds in threatened areas as a priority

“Since the start of storage and conservation activities in 2003, INRA has conserved more than 157 genera and 526 species,” said the Norwegian institution. It explains the diversity of Moroccan seeds by the country’s climate, which has made it possible to create “a wide range of unique flora, between the Atlas and Rif mountains, two internationally recognized ‘hot spots’ of biodiversity”.

Today, Morocco has more than 7,000 plant species, more than 20% of which originate from the northwest. “More than 43% of the arable land [in the country] is used for cereals such as wheat and barley,” which explains the reasons for depositing these seeds with the Norwegian institute. However, “other important exports include sugar cane, citrus and olives”, but are not yet among the samples deposited at Svalbard. Those that are now registered mainly come from the areas most threatened by drought and climate change.

Also present in Morocco, but also in Lebanon, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has deposited other samples. The latter come from harvests in arid areas, where rainfall is scarce and desertification a real danger. Again, this is wheat and barley, in addition to oats and other grains or legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils and fodder crops, in addition to some wild species.

A food security project for future generations

ICARDA stocks a large catalog of species, thanks to its presence through research programs since 1977 in several regions around the world, particularly in West, Central and South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Thus, it covers around fifty countries and lists more than 900 improved varieties of wheat, in addition to its capacity to store more than 135,000 seed samples from more than 110 countries.

The first of the depositors with Svalbard, ICARDA has delivered samples to the Norwegian center since February 2008. To date, it has deposited more than 70,000 with this structure. 50,000 were in 2017 alone, since all those previously stored in Aleppo (Syria) had to be moved, due to the destruction of the place used for this purpose.

Located on an arctic archipelago, the Svalbard World Seed Reserve represents a seed “safe”, artificially cooled to -18 degrees. Its thick rock structure guarantees these conditions of conservation, even without electricity. It thus allows the storage of more than 5,000 plant species from different regions of the world.

This reserve thus constitutes an ultimate structure for the world food supply, offering to future generations options to face the challenges of climate change and food security of the growing world population.

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