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Louise Fresco, with the author’s compliments

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May 31, 2022

As a tribute to our leaving Executive Board Chair, Louise O. Fresco, WUR Library has put together a small farewell exhibition. It focuses on the botanist and scientist Nikolaj Vavilov, whose life and work inspired her throughout her career. The exhibition also shows her scientific and societal contributions.

Vavilov: a source of inspiration

The Russian scientist Vavilov sought to improve agricultural crops by crossing them with wild varieties. He collected wild plants, their seeds, roots and fruit from all over the world. His collection, the largest of the time, contained about 400,000 specimens by the end of the 1930s. He collected most of these himself during his 115 expeditions to 65 countries.

Vavilov's pioneering ideas formed the basis for the Vavilov Institute, which has grown into one of the oldest and largest gene banks in the world. During the Soviet regime, Vavilov protected this unique centre for seeds and crops at the cost of his own life. Without Vavilov’s work, hunger would be much more widespread throughout the world. His insights, decisiveness and courage inspired Louise Fresco in her lifelong fight against global food poverty. Recently she published the novel De plantenjager uit Leningrad (The planthunter from Leningrad), with which she creates a true monument for the scientist.

A historic connection

While selecting material for this exhibition, the librarians were excited to discover an original inscription from Vavilov in his book Studies on the origin of cultivated plants, from 1926. This book is also on display in the exhibition. The inscription shows the historic link between Vavilov and the Rijks Landbouw Hoogeschool (WUR's predecessor). The copy in the Library’s Special Collections is a personal copy that used to belong to Professor H.N. Kooiman who headed the Library of the Landbouw Hoogeschool from 1933 until 1958. He obtained his copy from the author himself, as it is inscribed "With Compliments of the Author".

Vavilov inscription_uitsnede.jpg

In this publication, Vavilov describes his idea behind improving plants, using diverse variations of the same species, obtained from specific places of origin. Vavilov understood that the best places to find diversity are marginal regions, where all kinds of stresses (such as excess cold, wetness, and dryness) have caused the proliferation of species with unusual traits. Vavilov identified these areas as agrobiodiversity hotspots, such as Kazakhstan with its wide range of original apple varieties.

About Louise Fresco's scientific output

Fresco's scientific articles are characterised by the broadness of their subjects, but al are related to food production. During her work at the department of Agronomy of Wageningen University & Research as Professor of plant production systems with special reference to the (sub)tropics, she published several articles on the interface between plant production systems and land use. After her transfer to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, she continued publishing on the topic with co-authors from WUR. As Assistant Director-General of the FAO, she published several perspectives on ecosystems, agriculture and food production. As Professor at the University of Amsterdam (2006-2014), her publications shifted towards more visionary articles about ecosystems and agriculture.

During Fresco's position as President of the Wageningen University & Research Executive Board since 2014, she published on the future and sustainability of agriculture and food production, together with researchers from Wageningen and elsewhere. The topics of Fresco's publications are visualised in the network graph, with common words from the titles and abstracts.

Topic network of Louise Fresco’s scientific articles
Topic network of Louise Fresco’s scientific articles

Collaboration and impact

Five of her in total 51 scientific publications (indexed by Scopus) appeared in the highly esteemed journals Science and Nature. Louise collaborated with many authors from more than 15 countries. Her collaborative ventures and groups of co-authors are shown in the author network graph. Her publications have been cited 3,315 times across 2,974 documents (Scopus, 25 May 2022). Her best cited publication is “The significance of soils and soil science towards realization of the United Nations sustainable development goals, which has 767 citations (Scopus, 25 May 2022).

Co-author network of Louise Fresco’s scientific articles
Co-author network of Louise Fresco’s scientific articles

Visit the exhibition

You’re most welcome to visit the exhibition on the third floor in Forum Library. The exhibition opens on 1 June and runs through 15 August. Forum Library is open Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 10 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.

Address: Forum Library, Wageningen University & Research. Building 102. Droevendaalsesteeg 2, 6708 PB, Wageningen.