Michael Haddad concludes Arctic Walk for Climate Resilience & Food Security

delivering seeds from 12 Arab countries and Pope Francis’ book to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

June 7, 2022
Michael Haddad

Michael, Regional Goodwill ambassador during his walk in Svalbard

Longyearbyen — A journey that started six months ago in Beirut and Rome concluded today on Spitsbergen Island, in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Goodwill Ambassador, Michael Haddad completed his Arctic Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security, delivering a “package of hope,” comprising seed samples from twelve Arab countries and a book by Pope Francis to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault-- the world's largest backup facility for seeds, carrying significant importance to global food supply.

“Haddad has defied the odds of disability, demonstrating the 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,” said Dr Khalida Bouzar, UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of its Regional Bureau for Arab States. “Water scarcity and temperature rising faster than the global average may thrust more Arab countries deeper into dependency on imports to meet the basic food needs of their populations, at a time when we may soon be facing a global food crisis.” 

After paying a courtesy visit to HE Lars Fause, Governor of Svalbard, Lebanese endurance athlete Haddad, who has been paralyzed from the chest down since age six, employed his unique “step-to-gait” method to walk a stretch of nearly 5 kilometres from the Svalbard Museum to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Longyearbyen.

“The seeds and Pope Francis’ book that I delivered today send the same message—a message of hope. In my country and region, as we deal with a myriad of challenges, we have no option but to hold on to hope,” said Michael Haddad. “Our hope is bold, grounded in faith in our ability to do the right thing and to act collectively, in solidarity, at the pace and scale needed to arrest the fast-progressing Climate Emergency and stave off a looming food crisis.” 

Haddad delivered seeds of wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea, and other forage legumes from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the State of Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, as part of the official periodic seed duplicates that these countries deposit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault for secure long-term storage, as a critical backup to help safeguard global crop diversity.

“We were happy to receive the seeds and special book that Michael brought with him today and applaud the determination he exhibits in his quest to remind all of us of the importance of addressing climate change, together and with urgency,” said Åsmund Asdal, Coordinator of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. “Climate change may threaten agricultural biodiversity in many ways, as it increases extreme weather phenomena, changes precipitation patterns and lessens predictably of freshwater supplies. At the seed vault we safely keep duplicates of the world’s seeds as a backup for any eventuality.”

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has especially prepared the seed packets for Haddad at their genebank in Terbol, Lebanon. Due to conflict in Syria, ICARDA relocated its genebank from Aleppo to new facilities in Lebanon and Morocco, to be able to continue research on genetic resources of regional plant species. ICARDA is the only seed bank to ever make a withdrawal from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to help rebuild its collection. 

The seed packets were readied in coordination with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO’s) International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which focuses on the conservation of plant genetic diversity for food and agriculture around the globe. The International Treaty also provides the international legal framework for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Along with the actual seeds Haddad delivered a miniature edition of Pope Francis’ book, “Why Are You Afraid, Have You No Faith?” which documents the extraordinary moment of prayer over which he presided in March 2020, at a peak moment of the COVID-19 pandemic. He presented the book—blessed by Pope Francis himself, as a symbolic seed of hope. At the start of his walk, Haddad gifted a copy of the book to the Svalbard Museum for public display in the section dedicated to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, after its planned expansion in 2024.

“We are honoured to receive this special gift that Michael Haddad brings to us today,” said Anita Utsi, Deputy Director of the Svalbard Museum in Longyearbyen. “We will be happy to give this copy of Pope Francis’ book a home among the collections dedicated to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and to tell its story and the unique journey that brought it here, to the many visitors, who come from all over the world to view our collections, year after year.”

Attributable quotes from partners:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
“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 Kent Nnadozie, Secretary, FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture. “As the climate crisis intensifies, threatening agricultural productivity and food security, preserving crop genetic diversity becomes more critical. Seeds are one of the greatest hopes for our ability to build the resilience of agrifood systems to adapt to the rapidly changing climate.”
“With his endurance and outstanding example, Michael sends to the world a wonderful message of hope that inspires our joint fighting against climate change and food insecurity,” said Eduardo Mansur, Director of FAO’s Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment. “No matter how adverse the conditions are, Michael sets the example that we can face it.”

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
Seeds from this region symbolize life - their climate-smart traits can overcome climate challenges and future-proof our global food systems.” said Dr Athanasios Tsivelikas, Manager of ICARDA’s Genebank in Morocco. “ICARDA thanks Michael for his incredible effort in spreading this message of hope.”

Dicastery of Communication, the Holy See (special message to the event)
“Seeds embody life. They are the greatest symbol of hope. And when Pope Francis prayed in St. Peter's Square for all humanity, he called upon us all to maintain hope,” said Msgr. Lucio Ruiz, Secretary Dicastery of Communication of the Holy See. “He also asked us to stand together in unity as we strive to build a new world together, because no one can be saved alone. This is the power of Haddad’s wonderful gesture today. We are grateful to him and to the Institute for Global Dialogue and Cultural of Encounter for brokering this moment.”

For media inquiries around the Svalbard Walk, and to arrange for interviews or receive b-roll and photos from the walk, please contact

Noeman AlSayyad
|   Regional Communication Advisor                     |  noeman.alsayyad@undp.org     | +962(79)5672901

Oda Steen                 |   Comm focal point - Nordic Rep Office            |  oda.steen@undp.org                    |  +47(94)034850

Afshaan Shafi
          |   Communication Lead, International Treaty  Afshaan.Shafi@fao.org                |  +39(06)57052469
Christabel Clark      |   Comm & Knowledge Management Officer   Christabel.clark@fao.org             |  +39(06)57054780

Louise Sarant
           |   Communication Specialist                                   |  L.Sarant@cgiar.org                        |  +20(10)64500138