A Norwegian community seed bank has been established in order to conserve plant genetic material and ensure the survival of genetic diversity in Norwegian varieties. Old Norwegian varieties of plant material can have good characteristics and be resilient to certain illnesses. Norway is currently entirely dependent on overseas vegetable varieties, the rights to which often belong to multinational seed companies.
Together with cultivators of old plant varieties, the Royal Norwegian Society for Development have established a joint Norwegian community seed bank in fall 2018. This is a formal and visible cooperative for all producers and cultivators of Norwegian seed that naturally belongs in a community seed bank.
Natural diversity under threat
Natural diversity is the basis for nature’s many cycles. Without functional cycles, the basis for life on earth would be significantly poorer. Natural diversity is currently under enormous pressure due to population growth and a constantly-increasing demand for water, food and energy. A number of species and natural varieties are threatened with extinction – both globally and in Norway.
Since the beginning of the last century, modern plant breeding and new varieties have gradually taken over from the could country varieties. The lifespan of new varieties has become ever shorter, which means that both national varieties and new varieties from the 20th century have been lost. It eventually became clear that the diversity of varieties that disappeared contained genetic resources that were valuable for the future of agriculture, so in 1979 the Nordic Gene Bank (today known as NordGen) was established with the purpose of conserving seeds and plants with genetic material from cultivated plants.
Desire that more people should use old national varieties
The Norwegian Community Seed Bank (Norsk Bruksgenbank SA) is to promote the use of these varieties where it is economically viable to do so, and to work to ensure that these varieties can once more become commercially interesting.
In the autumn of 2017 The Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre and Økologisk Norge invited the Royal Norwegian Society for Development to discuss the founding of a Norwegian Community Seed bank for plant material. Bodies involved in Norwegian seed work indicated that the Royal Norwegian Society for Development would be a natural hub for a national Community Seed bank of this kind.
A collaboration agreement was signed with the Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre and the work is being supported by the Norwegian Agriculture Agency. The joint owners of the newly-established cooperative are initially Økologisk Spesialkorn DA, Solhatt Økologisk Hagebruk AS and Norges Vel.
Norges Vel has long traditions of promoting the cultivation of plants
Norges Vel has a long tradition of promoting plant cultivation in Norwegian agriculture. An important and long timeline runs from the Royal Norwegian Society for Development’s work in the 19th century to introduce new varieties and species in plant cultivation in order to boost Norway’s food production and to the establishment of the modern Seed Centre at Hellerud in 1980.
The Royal Norwegian Society for Development contributed to the establishment of a seed control station in 1883, a plant-breeding committee in 1906 and the Hellerud experimental and elite breeding farm in 1950, in which the focus was on elite and stem seed breeding. The seed centre at Hellerud was responsible for seeds from meadow and grazing plants, but also for seeds for greens, roots and various vegetables. After a reorganisation of Norwegian pre-basis seed work at the end of the 1990s, the workload at the Hellerud seed centre became so small that the centre was closed in 2001.
About the project
The goal for 2018 has been to establish a collective and formally organized Norwegian Community Seed bank which is a visible collaborative organ for all producers/cultivators of Norwegian seed that naturally belongs in a community seed bank. In 2019 the seed bank will apply for funding to organise and promote the organisations work, in order to recruit farmers to be cultivators of seeds.
The work is to be rooted in the The Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre’s 2017-2019 action plan for cultivated plants. The Royal Norwegian Society for Development will be the secretariat of the cooperative.
Main activities for the seed bank will be:
- Facilitating increased diversity of plant material in agriculture through:
- Working with diversity in sorts, species and markets that do not have targeted breeding or seed production in Norway, with the aim of making use of foreign plants that can be suitable for cultivation in Norway
- Ensuring adequate quantities of seed for material in demand
- Ensuring that relevant and desired gene material is taken out of the gene bank, and getting it fostered
- Stimulating increased use of the diversity provided by the gene bank by:
- Contacting relevant R&D sectors to promote increased use in research, processing and teaching
- Survey and maintain contact with other markets
- Enable and contribute to the inclusion of new bodies in the agricultural gene bank
- Build bridges between commercial use and non-commercial conservation
- Contribute to the preparation of variety lists for conservation varieties / hobby varieties
- Ensure access to varieties through limited stocks
- Prepare and coordinate applications for funds for relevant projects
- Work towards increased wealth creation relating to the fostering of the gene material
- Contribute to increasing awareness of heritage plant sorts and promote the “plant heritage” product label