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The Vault was opened in 2008 (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Once called ‘the craziest idea anybody ever had’, the men behind the doomsday seed vault have won the World Food prize. 

Around 20 years ago, Dr Cary Fowler and Dr Geoffrey Hawtin began thinking about ways to protect the world’s food supply and came up with the idea of a seed vault, hidden in the side of an Arctic mountain.

Now, they have been named the 2024 World Food Prize Laureates by officials in Washington for their work in establishing the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Svalbard opened in 2008 and now contains 1.25 million seed samples from nearly every country. 

The large concrete structure provides genetic protection for over 6,000 varieties of crops and culturally important plants. It was built in case existing seed banks were threatened by wars, climate change or other upheaval.

Between them, the men will split a $500,000 award, after they were announced the winners of the prize at a ceremony where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised them for their ‘critical role in preserving crop diversity.’

Dr Fowler is the US special envoy for Global Food Security, and Dr Hawtin is an agricultural scientist from the UK and executive board member at the Global Crop Diversity Trust. 

A Frozen door inside Global Seed Vault at Svalbard archipelago (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)

Dr Fowler, who proposed establishing the seed vault in Norway, said his idea was initially met with confusion by the leaders of seed banks in some countries.

He said: ‘To a lot of people today, it sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It’s a valuable natural resource and you want to offer robust protection for it.

‘Fifteen years ago, shipping a lot of seeds to the closest place to the North Pole that you can fly into, putting them inside a mountain – that’s the craziest idea anybody ever had.’



Facts about the Global Seed Vault

  • The Norwegian government entirely funded the Seed Vault’s approximately 45 million kr (US $8.8 million in 2008) construction cost
  • The seed vault officially opened on 26 February 2008 but the first seeds came in January 2008 
  • There are no permanent staff on-site in the vault 
  • The seeds are stored in airtight aluminium bags, and on average each bag contains approximately 500 seeds

The pair said they hope their award will as World Food Prize laureates will help raise hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding of seed bank endowments around the world to make sure they can last lifetimes. 

‘This is really a chance to get that message out and say, look, this relatively small amount of money is our insurance policy, our insurance policy that we’re going to be able to feed the world in 50 years,’ Dr Hawtin said.


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