The first ever samples of New Zealand seeds to be stored in the Arctic's underground global seed vault are arriving on the Svalbard archipelago today.
Dr Kioumars Ghamkhar from AgResearch left New Zealand on Friday with his precious cargo of 1.8 kilograms of ryegrass and white clover seeds, and their wild relatives.
The Global Seed Vault holds the world's largest collection of crop diversity and is inside a mountain on an island in the Svalbard archipelago, which is halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole.
The vault is built to protect the world's food supply and offer options for future challenges of climate change and population growth.
Dr Ghamkhar said he had taken about 726 packets of seeds to the vault.
"In theory they're going to be preserved and conserved for ever, but in practice probably 100 years or maybe a bit more. The significance is that the New Zealand seed inheritance is being duplicated and backed up just in case anything happens here, disaster, fire, earthquake - because there is no back-up of these valuable seeds which are worth a lot of money.
"For example ryegrass contributes about $15 million a year in New Zealand, so we're sending all these cultivars and their parents to the vault."
Dr Ghamkhar said the process of getting the seeds into the vault was very thorough.
"When we get there there will be a security check for the seeds to make sure that there is no disease or fungus involved, and then we're going to go through an underground tunnel to where the vault is and then there are basically three vaults which are 145 metres long and each of them have capacity for about 1.5 million packets of seeds.
"At the moment there are about 860,000 packets of seeds there already. But total capacity is 4.5 million so there is lot of space for the future."
He said the trip would establish connections which would enable AgResearch to post hopefully seeds every six months instead of delivering them in person.
Each country or institution will still own and control access to the seeds they have deposited. The Black Box System entails that the depositor is the only one that can withdraw the seeds and open the boxes.