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LONGYEARBYEN, Norway, February 26, 2008 (ENS) - The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened today on a remote island in the Arctic Circle, receiving the first shipments of what will be a collection of 100 million seeds from more than 100 countries. Unique varieties of the African and Asian food staples maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum as well as European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato are the first deposits in the icy vault.
At the opening ceremony, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg unlocked the vault and, together with Nobel Peace Prize laureate environmentalist Wangari Maathai of Kenya, placed the first box of seeds inside.
Containing varieties of rice seeds from 104 countries, the box was opened during the ceremony, and then resealed before being placed in the vault.
"With climate change and other forces threatening the diversity of life that sustains our planet, Norway is proud to be playing a central role in creating a facility capable of protecting what are not just seeds, but the fundamental building blocks of human civilization," said Stoltenberg.
Maathai, founder of the African Green Belt Movement, said, "The significant public interest in the seed vault project indicates that collectively we are changing the way we think about environmental conservation. We now understand that along with international movements to save endangered species and the rainforests of the world, it is just as important for us to conserve the diversity of the world's crops for future generations."
[Photo by Mari Tefre, courtesy Crop Diversity Trust]