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Protecting Africa’s Food Supply

For 15 years, plant DNA has been stored here in the permafrost of Spitsbergen Island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago at minus 18 degrees Celsius (around zero Fahrenheit) — designed to protect the world’s food supply from a doomsday-like catastrophe and preserve it for future generations. There are now 1.2 million samples: Sorghum, wheat, beans, maize — and more recently, German vegetables. Mayowa Olubiyi, a plant scientist is the representative of the National Center for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. The plant scientist has transported cowpeas, sorghum and okra in his luggage — staple foods for millions of Africans. His Zambian colleague Graybill Munkombwe nods knowingly as he heaves boxes of seeds onto the conveyor belt. They contain seeds from southern Africa: Sorghum, beans and rice, “plant material that our farmers have been using for generations — not only as food, but also for medicinal and cultural purposes… Storing them here in the vault means preserving our national heritage,” said Munkombwe. “If anything bad happens at home, we can fall back on the duplicates that are stored here.”