N.I.Vavilov Institute of Plant Genetic Resources

N.I.Vavilov Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (VIR)


A really international scandal keeps spreading at Pavlovsk experiment station of VIR – the scientific community was shocked, when it became known, the largest field genebank in Europe will be barbarically destroyed, and instead of it there appear commercial cottages.

Let`s remind you, on 25th of December 2009 two resolutions have been signed (order №2058-R and №2061-R) by the Federal property management agency under the Ministry of the economic development. They sanctioned termination of perpetual (irrevocable) tenure over lots № 2 (total area 714 286 m2) and № 18 (total area 195 079 m2) by the Pavlovsk experiment station as well as their handover within three months to the Russian housing development foundation.

Exactly these lots are used for growing unique fruit and berry crops as well as perennial fodder crops, which make up a significant part (collection encompasses about 10 000 accessions) of Vavilov`s world plant genetic resources collection. This part of the famous collection was founded by Vavilov himself and his closest associates (for further information about fruit genetic resources preserved at Pavlovsk experiment station click here to see a ppt-presentation).

During more than 80 years the collection has been constantly replenished with plants from all corners of the world and maintained in viable condition by many generations of domestic scientists. Thanks to their tedious and self-denying efforts Russia has the largest field genebank of fruit and berry crops in Northern Europe. This genetic diversity is widely used by Russian scientists, but also recognized and valued by the world`s scientific community.

The administration of the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry and staff of the Pavlovsk experiment station have addressed with opened letters the President of the Russian Federation D.A. Medvedev and the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin and other politicians of Russia with the request to save the world`s heritage from the irresponsible actions of some Russian officials. But this didn`t produce absolutely no effect. The court insistently denies taking an adequate decision – Pavlovsk station has already lost an action regarding one of the lots.

However foreign colleagues of VIR didn`t stay indifferent – they understand the destroying essence of the decisions, which some officials of the Federal property management agency take at times and others try to implement them. Director of VIR constantly receives support letters with proposals to do what one can to help (from Bioversity International - Emile Frison, Director General; Pablo B. Eyzaguirre, Senior scientist as well as prof. M.S. Swaminathan, Member of Parliament and ex-president of the International Union for the Conservation of the Nature and Natural Resources; Achim Steiner, Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Rex Brennan, Head of the Fruit Breeding and Genetics Group at Scottish Crop Research Institute; Bert Visser, Director of the Centre for Genetic Resources at the Wageningen University and Research Centre; Siegfried Harrer, senior scientist at Plant genetic resources department of the Information and Coordination Centre for Biological Diversity; Maggioni Lorenzo, European Cooperative program for Plant Genetic Resources, ECPGR Coordinator and many others).

Having learnt about the insistent wish of Russian officials to destroy a part of Vavilov`s collection, foreign mass media actively responded. After publications in “New Scientist”, “Current TV”, “The Independent” and many others, the tide of protest overwhelmed foreign research community. The director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust Cary Fowler having visited the Pavlovsk Experiment station in June 2010 encouraged colleagues to write open letters to the Russian Government, emphasizing exceptional role of the collection for the future. Such an activity from the side of our foreign partners and colleagues is not much of a surprise. Recently in 2009 acknowledging exceptional value of the Vavilov`s collection in solving food security problems, FAO of the United Nations addressed the Russian government with the request to include it to the global network of genebanks. The Minister of Agriculture of Russia, considering the importance of the Vavilov`s collection under changing climate conditions, has given a positive response on behalf of the Russian Federation.

But our understanding is, not all Russian officials consider Minister`s decision authoritative enough.

Domestic mass media also have actively responded to the real threat of invaluable Vavilov`s collection destruction: there was a set of materials on this theme in newspapers, on the radio and TV. The problem was widely covered with such respected mass media as: «», «RIA Novosti», «Echo Peterburga», "", "NTV", «Russia channel», «Broadcasting Company Petersburg», «100 TV» by newspapers «Rossiyskaya gazeta», «Vedomosty» and others.

Thanks to mass media position of the Russian housing development foundation became also known to the wide public. A deputy head of the department of housing resources, on a twist of fate - namesake of academician Nikolay Vavilov - Andrey Vavilov has declared that the direction of the Pavlovsk experimental station itself ostensibly asked «to include the given lots in the list of prime actions for General layout realization on development of the ground areas for the purpose of housing construction».

The author of this phrase meaningly deforms an essence of the request, but in his following saying he goes further away, declaring, the conducted inspection has revealed that one plot is deserted, and on the second - only half of the area is occupied by fruit and berry crops, other part is ploughed up and covered with grass.

Certainly, to listen and read such a statement for all those who happened to visit Pavlovsk experimental station of VIR, is strange enough: all, who have been there, understand – either the inspection went blindly or the namesake of famous Vavilov impudently says lies. Besides that, it is not clear what he names "one" and "second" lots. The lots in question are lot № 2 and lot № 18 (this lot harbors a part of the collection of perennial forage crops as well as household constructions). In addition, it`s not clear, what "inspection" dear Vavilov is speaking about. It is necessary to notice that off-schedule inspection of the lot № 2 has been conducted on July 3rd 2009 by the representatives from the Federal property management agency, Federal real estate management agency, VIR representatives and representative of the Russian housing development foundation.

The inspection has proved that the lot № 2 is used for targeted purposes, while carrying out an inspection exterior users were not revealed, approximately 12% from the whole area of the given lots are not used (due to the specificity of works: it`s used for crop samples transfer to the cultivated plot, a part of this plot being swampy, approximately 2% from the whole area is not used). VIR administration has a copy of this inspection release.

VIR co-workers, domestic and foreign scientists, representatives of the international organizations and all those who really acknowledge the value of the Vavilov`s collection of plant genetic resources, hope that Russia high-level officials will at last pay attention to the threat of partial destruction of this really international heritage and will take corresponding measures to stop this lawlessness. And all guilty will incur the deserved punishment.