Decentralized Seed Banking Is the Next Innovation We Need to Solve Climate Change

January 7, 2022
Yishan Wong

To enable the planting of 1 trillion trees by the end of the decade, the world will need approximately 100,000 working seed banks, located across every region with forest restoration potential. 

In the coming years, Terraformation plans to deploy the first 1% of this worldwide network of seed banks: the first 1,000.

These thousand seed banks will form the nucleus of the network, a key foundational element that will enable us — all of us — to rapidly scale forest restoration around the world, capture carbon, and reverse the impacts of climate change.

Here’s why.

What we learned at COP26

During the annual gathering of world leaders, companies, activists, and nonprofits at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November, it became clear that many organizations and governments are now acknowledging forest restoration not as a pet project for tree huggers, but as essential to solving the climate crisis. 

There’s a time premium applied when thinking about climate solutions. The climate is warming as we speak: every day we wait to reduce emissions magnifies consequences for the climate and human life. 

Thus, solutions that start sequestering carbon now are disproportionately more valuable than those that may ultimately be even more efficient, but still require years to implement at scale. Nature-based climate solutions are the only ones that can begin capturing carbon at scale today: a tree begins sequestering carbon from the moment it germinates, and continues to do so for decades. 

At COP26, Terraformation helped convene a roundtable of some of the leading forest restoration and tree-planting organizations, including Eden, TIST, Global Forest Generation, WeForest, and others. Together, the groups discussed the biggest bottlenecks to scaling reforestation projects by 10x or 100x. You can read a summary of the gathering’s proceedings here.  

A major theme that emerged from these conversations, and one that we have been tracking ourselves over the last two years, is the availability of native seeds for large-scale restoration of site-specific native ecosystems. 

Native seeds matter for the climate because biodiverse, natural ecosystems are an order of magnitude more carbon-dense than single-species tree plantations. Unfortunately, those tree plantations are business-as-usual for what counts as ‘forest restoration’ today.   

If you're on board with forest restoration as the best climate solution, the next key step is the establishment of a worldwide network of decentralized seed banks.

The global seed bank network

To meet the climate goal of restoring 1 trillion trees by 2030, the world will need to establish the seed bank network by the middle of the decade. We’ll need to place banks in every region around the planet where we can restore forests. Each bank will need to be continuously stocked with millions of seeds native to the bank’s region — collected from nearby forests and properly stored — so that they are available at the right time and season for planting.

Establishing this decentralized seed network is a massive infrastructural upgrade for the world. It will also require a rapid training and work program for the world’s future seed collectors who will staff each bank. 

But this project is the necessary next step for restoring the planet’s forests. It will also ensure regional seed sovereignty, preserve and enhance biodiversity, heighten crop resilience, and buffer local communities from increasing weather variance.

Terraformation’s mission for 2022: establishing the first 1% of the world’s decentralized seed bank network

In the coming years, our mission is to facilitate the construction of the first 1,000 seed banks, a foundation on which we can grow the rest of the global network. 

Our team is working with a growing number of global partners who are ready to receive the seed banks and put them into operation, collecting native seeds and processing them for storage in preparation for large-scale planting.

Terraformation is able to design and build these seed banks, but we need sponsors to fund materials and labor. Each seed bank currently costs about $100k to build (with zero margin), though construction costs should come down over time. But each bank will hold within it the potential for millions of tons of carbon capture, making it an infrastructure that can yield returns for decades to come.

The world's forests have stood for eons. Our temporary loss of forest cover is just that — temporary — a blip in the million-years-long history of Earth's forests. The soil microbes, bacteria, fungi, and all the co-evolved living matter that supports trees — it’s all still there. 

We can restore our forests in THIS generation.  

Think of the best possible version of the future — and we can make it happen.

Want to help build the world's largest global seed bank network — and support your company's ESG initiatives? Contact us to learn more about sponsoring a seed bank at one of Terraformation's global project sites.

Get in touch

Yishan Wong
Engineer and climate activist. Specializes in rapid growth tech impact. Ex-engineer at PayPal, Facebook. Ex-CEO of Reddit.
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