The World's Largest Seed Bank: Next Bank to Fail?


Photo by Fred Dawson

Seems like the financial crisis has wracked more than just monetary institutions—Britain's Millennium Seed Bank is under major threat due to a lack of continued funding. The bank, the largest in the world, is home to 10 percent of all of the world's plant species, and stores six species thought to be extinct in the natural world. The bank may now fall short of its goal of collecting and conserving 25 percent of the world's plant species by 2020—which could mean even more rare and endangered plants could be lost forever.
The Millennium Seed Bank
The bank, considered the largest plant conservation project in the world, began operations in 2000 with the long term goal of collecting every flowering plant on earth for storage. The bank works like a real fiscal bank—countries and governments opt to store their countries' seeds at Millennium, and they never cede ownership of the plants. Think of the seeds stored there various countries as protected investments—some seeds may even be critical to fighting climate change.

Seed Banking Ain't Cheap
But those investments are in trouble—mostly due to the stunning amount of funding apparently necessary to maintain the operation. The bank evidently needed to secure a whopping 100 million British pounds in order to meet its 2020 goal of storing a quarter of the world's plants. The plants must be collected, organized and maintained—kept at temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius in order to ensure their preservation. It takes 2,000 pounds to save one seed, and according to one involved botanist, since four plant species disappear every year, it's nonetheless a good value.

Yet it doesn't take an economist to see why the seed bank's been fit by the financial crisis—with purely monetary investments dwindling away worldwide at rapid, nearly unprecedented rates, it may be difficult to convince backers to pony up cash for a handful of seeds. Even though those seeds may be as precious a commodity as we have.

Another interesting thought—100 million pounds does seem to be an awful lot of funding required for seed preservation. Is it possible that, just like with fiscal banks, more cost-effective seed banks or living seed banks may profit from the expensive bank's loss? Operations like BC Seeds may seem like a more prudent choice for investors and that program helps promote seed diversity and sustainability in real world environments. Perhaps the collapse of the world's largest seed bank may make room for smaller, more progressive programs to flourish.

More on Seed Banks:
African Seed Bank Deposits Arrive In Norway : TreeHugger
Norway to Build Doomsday Seed Vault : TreeHugger

Tags: Conservation | Economics | Endangered Species | England

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