A new project has been launched to prevent the extinction of vital food crops. Work has begun in the Arctic on the construction of a global bank of seeds. About 1.5 billion seeds will be held in a reinforced concrete tunnel in the side of a mountain.Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was among those attending the laying of the foundations. He said: “It will contribute to ensure our food security. The main aim is to protect the seeds of plants that are important to food and agricultural processes.” Lying about 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole, the vault is being built on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust will manage the site when it opens next year. The body’s head, Cary Fowler, said: “The seed vault itself is going to be mechanically lowered to about minus twenty, which is the optimal temperature. But if the equipment fails, then you have the advantage of the natural coldness of the area.” The bank could eventually help countries like Iraq and Afghanistan where conflict wiped out dozens of unique crops.