Issues involving plant genetic resources are important at the present stage of global community development, because the genetic diversity contained in our gene banks are the foundation on which we can build future cultivars and create new crops for a new agriculture in our part of the world. Each single country within the Northern regions represents only a marginal market for crop development. Within the Northern region as a whole however, there are differing temperature zones, characterized by common ecological factors, which are large enough to offer interesting opportunities for crop development in view of new challenges such as climatic changes. The needfor greater diversification, also raised by the recent public awareness for food products of local origin, could be met by systematic cooperation within the Northern region. Such challenges open for new fields of investigation as well the need for enhanced documentation of genetic resources. There are a number of issues, which are of great importance to gene banks and which are shared in the Nordic - Baltic - Russian region.
The N. I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry (VIR) collection is one of the oldest in the world and was initiated in 1894. By now the collections in St. Petersburg comprise some of the largest collections in the world and one of the most complete in its historic and temporal extension.
The fast dissolution of former Soviet Union greatly affected the activities in VIR and the drastic changes in the economy of a new Russia placed the proper management of collections in VIR into a situation of uncertainty. Therefore an international effort was initiated in 1997 under the leadership of the Nordic Gene Bank (NGB) and funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) and Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) to support gene bank activities in VIR during the difficult transition time.
The VIR collection represents plant diversity encompassing 320,000 accessions of 155 botanical families, 2,532 species of 425 genera. For instance, the collection harbours almost 95,000 accessions of grain crops, over 43,000 of legumes, near 50,000 of forage crops, 26,000 of industrial crops, 28,000 of fodder crops, about 10,000 of potato, and 50,000 of a number of vegetables. About 200,000 accessions were placed for long-term storage in the gene bank built in 1976 at Kuban station. In the past five years, VIR sent abroad about 40,000 samples. VIR collaborates with the ex-USSR republics and continues to supply plant materials at requests from breeders. In recent years, pursuant to the CBD, many countries have displayed interest in repatriation of their own PGR, and VIR has met such requests.
The Nordic Gene Bank has been involved in Baltic cooperation since 1994 and Russian cooperation since 1997. During 1997–2005 NGB and VIR have conducted a number of projects together covering a wide range of gene bank responsibilities from collection of plant genetic resources to cooperation on legal issues on storing plant genetic material.
Although contacts between VIR and Baltic Gene Banks had been idle for a while the Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the VIR, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian plant genetic resources authorities and Nordic Gene Bank in May 2002 and the useful cooperation continued on a solid basis. During the last years the regional network between Nordic and Baltic countries and VIR has been strengthened and VIR scientists have participated in the joint Nordic-Baltic working group meetings.
The Ministers of Fisheries, Agriculture, Food and Forestry of Nordic and Baltic countries have agreed upon the following recommendations/declarations, on the basis of their discussions at the ministers meeting on the 7 November 2006.
- Reiterate the importance of regional cooperation within genetic resources in inter alia the Nordic, Baltic and Russian Region
- Note with satisfaction that the cooperation has been successful and expanded over the years.
- Underline the importance of genetic resources for sustainable development and note that the efforts aimed at the conservation and sustainable utilisation of genetic resources in the region are given higher priority in the future.
- Believe that a still closer relationship is required in the Nordic, Baltic and Russian Region raised by the need for greater crop diversification in view of challenges of climatic changes and new consumer preferences, and welcome closer cooperation in the future on how to extend the cooperation in the region, to share their unique experience and knowledge.
- Recommend that the current Memorandum of Understanding between the Nordic Gene bank, the Baltic gene banks and the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry is revised to meet the recent national, regional and international developments and to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation at technical level.
- Encourage efforts to facilitate scientific collaboration within areas of common interest between the VIR, NGB and the Nordic and Baltic countries.