Michael Haddad Successfully Delivers ICARDA seeds to Svalbard Vault

Jun 08 2022

Paralyzed Lebanese Athlete and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad completed a 5-kilometer Artic Walk yesterday, delivering a package of precious ICARDA seeds from the Middle East and North Africa to the Global Seed Vault in Norway. 

On a tiny island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, roughly 1,300 kilometers south of the North Pole, Michael Haddad took the first of thousands of courageous steps that led him, six hours later, to the metal gates of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – five kilometers away.  

He carried with him packets of ICARDA seeds from 12 Arab countries, containing samples of wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea, and forage crops that Dr. Athanasios Tsivelikas – ICARDA Morocco Genebank Manager – gave him just before the walk started. 

Michael was battered by strong, freezing winds throughout the arduous, winding path, which coursed along the sea before taking a steep turn upwards a few hundred meters from the vault’s entrance, which belied a golden glow of the fading afternoon.

He only managed to keep warm due to the exceptional physical effort he exerted throughout.  

“People with disabilities represent 15% of the world’s population – we need to empower them, and they need to play their roles as leaders in any conversations around climate action,” Michael Haddad declared as he embarked on his #Walk4FoodSecurity 

I am sincerely so humbled by what Michael Haddad was able to accomplish,” said Dr. Tsivelikas after Michael finished the walk in the late hours. “His message for climate action, food security, and his general call for us all to show greater courage in the face of current and future challenges was deeply inspiring,” he added.  

Strapped in a state-of-the-art exoskeleton that a team of scientists and engineers at the American University in Beirut developed, and using crutches and a unique gait he has perfected over time, Michael pushed himself to the limits of physical and mental endurance for the six-hour walk. 

Every so often, he could be heard murmuring to himself “Faith and determination…faith and determination.” 

Until I saw Michael on his walk, I just could not fathom the amount of pain, faith, and grit that go into accomplishing such an exploit – I have nothing but admiration for him,” added Dr. Tsivelikas, who stayed by Michael’s side throughout the journey.  

Upon arrival at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault gates around 10.30 pm, Michael delivered a package containing ICARDA’s seeds to Dr. Åsmund Asdal, the Coordinator of the Vault, during a small, intimate ceremony.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the world’s largest genebank and a critical backup for safeguarding global crop diversity. 

Climate change may threaten agricultural biodiversity in many ways, as it increases extreme weather phenomena, changes precipitation patterns, and lessens predictably of freshwater supplies,” said Dr. Asdal during the short address he gave after collecting the samples. “At the seed vault, we safely keep duplicates of the world’s seeds as a backup for any eventuality.”  

The seeds will be added to ICARDA’s collection of seed duplicates in Svalbard, shipped from ICARDA’s original genebank in Aleppo, Syria, as the conflict grew nearer. In 2015, ICARDA withdrew its seeds from Svalbard to rebuild its collection in Lebanon and Morocco – a collection that is now constantly expanding. 

FAO is thrilled that UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad has chosen to walk to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a unique initiative where FAO Members are working together to preserve the worlds crop diversity for future generations,” said Dr. Kent Nnadozie, the Secretary of FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture – who also accompanied Michael on his walk. 

Dr. Khalida Bouzar, UN Assistant Secretary-General, and UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau for Arab States, also expressed sincere admiration for Michael’s accomplishment.  

“Haddad has defied the odds of disability, demonstrating that determination can redefine ability. His walk today carries an important call from our region for urgent, scaled-up, and inclusive action to build resilience to the devastating impacts of climate change, especially on our food production systems,” she concluded.

Source: ICARDA