On Friday, 24 September at 12.00 a Moscow - St. Petersburg video bridge took place at the Russian News and Information Agency «RIA Novosti» entitled: "Results of evaluation conducted by the expert commission regarding the state of lands belonging to the Pavlovsk Experiment Station.
Experts had to examine the actual state of the fruit, berry crop and ornamental plant collections located at the territory of the Pavlovsk Experiment Station.
Participants in Moscow:
- Corresponding Member of RAS, Professor of the Department of Geobotany at M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University Vadim PAVLOV.
- Senior Doctor (Biological Sciences), Head of the Department of Higher Plants under the Faculty of Biology at M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University Alexander TIMONIN;
- PhD-doctor (Biological Science), Senior Researcher, Head of the Laboratory of Plant Evolution under Faculty of Biology at M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University Vladimir MURASHEV.
Participants in St. Petersburg:
- Senior Doctor (Biological Sciences), Director of the Institution under the Russian Academy of Sciences, V.L. Komarov Botanical Institute, Vasily YARMISHKO;
- Corresponding Member of RAS, the President of the Russian Botanical Society of Sciences Rudolf KAMELIN. - According to the information provided by the Russian News Agency "RIA Novosti".
1. In order to extend the basis for developing an agriculture production it`s advisable for the Ministry of economic development of the Russian Federation to initiate an accelerated elaboration of the federal law “on plant genetic resources”, to adopt a federal program on detection and preservation of plant genetic resources.
2. To include VIR and VIR experiment station network into the system of the Russian Academy of Science with consequent assigning the status “National heritage of Russia” to VIR collection.
3. The plot ¹ 18 with the total area 19,5 ha can be used for housing construction without damaging VIR collection.
4. The land with the total area 13,2 ha occupied by VIR collection at the plot ¹2 should be used for preservation of the collection. It`s also necessary to reveal reserve lands with the total area 20 ha on other plots of the Pavlovsk experiment station.
5. The commission consider it necessary to change the administration of the Pavlovsk experiment station
On 7th of September, 2010 the Ministry of Economic Development of Russia addressed the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Y.S. Osipov with a request to assist in the examination of ornamental plant as well as fruit and berry crop collections preserved at the Pavlovsk Experiment Station of VIR by establishing an expert group at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) to conduct an audit addressing the following issues:
1. Do the ornamental as well as fruit and berry crop plantations belong to the collection
2. Is it possible to determine the time of planting for these cultivars
3. Is it possible to re-locate ornamental as well as fruit and berry crop plantations without damaging them
In addition, the Ministry of Economic Development requested an expert opinion about the current state of these plantations and their uniqueness, including information on their distribution in Russia.
VIR staff members were pleased to find out about establishment of such a commission, since they have been asking for a long time to send specialists and experts to the Pavlovsk experiment station with the purpose to evaluate the uniqueness of the collection and to take a decision on possibility/impossibility of its transfer.
The expert group convened at Pavlovsk experiment station for one day and a half, the rest of the time it spent in the scientific center of the RAS branch in St.-Petersburg.
Members of the expert group began their work by visiting “incognito” the experiment station and without warning apparently hoping such a visit will facilitate them a "non-judgmental and objective analysis" of the current state of the collection. Ignoring employees of the department (collection curators) was likely deliberate. At this time Pavlovsk staff was not in the field as they were preparing documentation regarding their research for one year and five-year periods as well as different reference materials for the commission of the Accounts Chamber, which was working at the station from the 16th of September.
Taking into account that members of the expert group are representatives of high scientific circles, this step, to tell the truth, can be considered as a violation of not only widely accepted, but also scientific ethics, because the task of the group and that of curators was the same: to prove the presence of the collection, but not the presence of "plantations of bushes" on the territory of RZHS.
Obviously, the group members did not know that the territory of the Pavlovsk station occupies 500 ha and without a guide it is hardly possible to find plots with multiple accessions of different fruit and berry crop collections. Fortunately for them, they met a head of the research nursery and private entrepreneur M. Lebedev, who became the guide for the experts.
Having seen only a half of the plot with the collection plantations, the group safely returned to the scientific center for heated discussions. They had serious questions to be answered: is there any collection on the territory of the station, what is its uniqueness and value, how long will it take to re-locate it, to work out a plan on saving the collection not from housing construction planned by RHZHS and developers, but from the “administration of the station, the Institute and the Russian Academy of Agriculture science” (so it follows from the “non-judgmental” conclusion presented during the video bridge).
So they had to take an important decision, but how could the group members do the right conclusion taking into account that part of the group members is dealing with the chemical biology, another part is represented by teachers of Moscow State University and directors of botanical garden as well as former director of VIR, academician V. Dragavtsev (still unknown how he was included into the non-affiliated commission of RAS), who is now widely known in Russian scientific circles not by his scientific works, but for his obsession to change the VIR directorate.
It should be mentioned that the conclusion of the expert group was forwarded to the Institute not by the Chairman of the commission, what would be normal, but by kind-hearted, independent journalists participating in the video bridge.
Not bothering themselves to inform the administration of VIR and curators of the fruit and berry crop collection about the conclusion of the expert group (unknown secrecy), they decided to present their opinion via Internet like a video bridge, what is also not compatible with the moral and ethical norms accepted in scientific circles.
Surprisingly only a half of the expert group participated in the video bridge. For some reason, the chairman of the group was not invited or declined participating in this "show".
The discussion looked rather pale and expert opinions were not convincing enough (considering multiple calls of astonished viewers to the Institute), what is understandable, since experts didn`t get into details of the specific of work with the fruit, berry crop and ornamental plant collections. They didn`t also express their wish to meet with collection curators. 30 minutes were allocated for VIR director, Professor N. Dzhyubenko and about 40 minutes of their precious time – for two staff members of the fruit genetic resources department.
We do not question the authority of the expert group, but we point out that there was no horticultural expert amongst the members who visited the Pavlovsk Experiment Station or among participants of video bridge. Neither were representatives of the Institute and curators of collections involved in the video broadcast. Thus viewers got only one point of view from part of the "expert group" which contained no expertise specifically related to the crops at the Station.
Obviously, broader participation didn`t fit into the script of the "show", considering also provocative questions posed by Moscow TV presenter. And judging by these questions a viewer had an impression that the threat hanging over the collection is not that from the Russian Housing Development Foundation (RZHS) plans to sell plots and make a way for housing construction by destroying plantations the world community is worrying about so vocally, but instead by the negative effect on the collections of the "long-term efforts of scientists and curators of VIR”. The expert group seemed to be saying that the real threat to the collection was not it destruction to make way for a housing development, but the Station's management which is protesting the destruction. It's solution was to remove the Pavlovsk Station from the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and place it under the Russian Academy of Sciences, and to change (fire) the director of the Pavlovsk Station.
How could these issues be discussed (we don`t speak about moral and ethical point of view) on the basis of «working register of the collection curators; program and methodic of study of collection varieties (1970), orthophoto and cadastre plans of plots» (the list of documents is indicated in the expert group conclusion). Especially considering that this task wasn`t posed to the experts.
Perhaps this made the passage which caused "storm of emotional debates" regarding incorporation of the Institute, its collections and experiment station network into the system of RAS look completely stupid and irrelevant. We must pay tribute to the sobriety of individual judgments regarding impossibility of such a decision that some respected experts expressed.
Clearly, who doesn`t want to take the world famous Institute with its priceless collection under "his wing"? But it turned out, RAS "providing good faith could take care of the Institute and Vavilov`s world collection" (do experts imagine, how much the maintenance of the collection and the entire set of activities run by VIR costs?). Do more than 2000 institutes under RAS have no financial problems, the scientists of which periodically go on strikes and demonstrations with demands to increase the budget?
It`s totally unclear, where this absurd idea, that incorporation of VIR and its experiment station network into the system of RAS, can save the collection and provide favorable conditions for working with it, came from. In addition, experts have lost sight of one important question, how this decision will be taken by the Institute, its employees as well as the Russian Academy of Agricultural Science, which was called for whatever reason VASKHNIL (ceased to exist in 1991).
The question of the TV bridge presenter: "... whether financial infusions can improve the situation and save the collection neglected by the administration of the Institute?" – respected experts pompously answered that "it's not about money, but about attitude to the collection and lack of attention to it".
Actually, do the highly respected experts know that an average cost of collection, maintenance and preservation of one accession in a field genebank makes around 700 Euros (Smith & Livingston, 1997), while an average monthly salary of a curator does not reach 10 thousand Rubles (239 Euros).
VIR staff throughout the Institute's work paid great attention to the experience of botanical gardens especially in questions of preservation of collection, but it should be mentioned that despite common interests and similar tasks, the work on conservation of cultivated plant genetic resources, in particular fruit crops, has its own specific when it is not about saving genera or species (as it is customary in the botanical gardens), but about the preservation of the maximum intra-species diversity.
It`s strange to hear from members of the expert group saying we “need only 13 ha on the plot under collections and the rest can be safely used for housing construction." And do they know - experts specializing in chemical botany, botany teachers at Moscow State University and herbarium keepers - how much area should be allocated for every vegetatively regenerated accession in a field genebank according to the international standards?
A certain tendency in opinions of the expert group is revealed from the fact that within an hour they had a "friendly" talk with the director of VIR, head of the department of fruit and berry crops as well as one of the curators and staff members of the department and made a conclusion that is "apparently no one has ever cared for this collection; plants, even without any housing construction, will not survive, unless they are closely monitored".
A database for study and evaluation of collections, assembling new material and exchange programs, a comprehensive report on the number of monographs published over the past 10 years provided to the members of the expert group - are they not taken into account?
Unfortunately the video bridge has crossed out the long-term work not only of the present-day but also that of former employees of the fruit and berry crop department. It was strange to hear such claims that "some accessions of fruit and berry crop collections at Pavlovsk experiment station, judging by their condition, haven`t received proper care for many years. In addition, attention of both administration of the Station and VIR is not sufficient enough, at least, not to all collections”. Is it possible to make such a conclusion for 2-hour field visit?
That is not the conclusion we expected from the expert group.
However, we express our thanks to the expert group for its acknowledgement of the collection to be unique and extremely valuable. What else could they say? – this was previously acknowledged by the world community including FAO of UN.
Unfortunately, members of the expert group haven`t said a word about what is truly uniqueness of the collection (except mentioning the fact it is located at the northern bound of distribution), what is its efficiency as well as its scientific and practical significance.
We will modestly keep silent about the role of scientists and specialists, who not only preserve the collection in difficult financial conditions, but also study it and provide genetic material to specialists from other research institutions in Russia, CIS and the rest of the world.
On 23-24th of September 2010 another expert group under the Ministry of Agriculture of Russia was working at Pavlovsk experiment station. We do hope, results of this audit will be more objective and professional, they will provide a real picture about importance and value of the fruit and berry crop collection, which «will not survive even without housing construction» at the Pavlovsk experiment station both for Russia and world community despite its “bad condition” and (V. Murashev).
VIR reserves all rights to assemble a foreign commission consisting of experts in the sphere of plant genetic resources, who understand what preservation of a great amount of collection accessions in the field genebank means, considering the fact the collection is being preserved not only at Pavlovsk experiment station, but also at other 7 stations, and what are the true causes of "improper care" of these accessions.
In the next chapter there will be presented an inquiry forwarded to the members of the expert group as well as comments of collection curators on the expert conclusion.