Kazakhstan seeks Canadian crop genetics โ€” an international caper

Groups in Kazakhstan have recently shown a keen interest in Canadian plant genetics. They are especially interested in varieties of crops that grow well around Winnipeg, Regina, and Lethbridge, because those locations have growing conditions similar to Kazakhstan. The trouble is, the country doesn’t have an agreement in place to legally buy Canadian developed genetics.

Lorne Hadley, executive director of the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA), says that members of the CPTA have agreements on where they can and cannot distribute plant genetics generated by institutions such as universities or Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

But Kazakh groups started writing letters to all the major seed companies requesting seed, and when it became apparent that buying directly wasn’t an option, they upped the ante by hiring various companies or operatives to phone and misrepresent who they are to source seed.

The conversation with a broker or seed company unknowingly representing Kazakh groups may go something like: “I need a truckload of variety x, and I can’t get this variety to my client the next province over,” says Hadley. The calls have all been focused on public varieties, with cereals and pulse crop varieties being the most targeted types of seed.

Listen in on Shaun Haney’s interview with Lorne Hadley, executive director of the Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA), to fill us in on why this central asian country is so interested in Prairie plant breeding.

Agriculture and Agri-food Canada has expressed concern over the issue. If exporting finished varieties to Kazakhstan were permissible, AAFC would have licensed companies to distribute these varieties. However, as of yet, they do not have a policy to deal with the issue and to prevent Canadian genetics unlawfully being shipped.

“The Kazakhs have basically tried to negotiate in public,” says Hadley. “When they were told no, they immediately went public with we need this stuff and you should supply it to us.”

Generally, what Canada would do in cases like this would be to work with countries to set up their own genetics and breeding program, says Hadley. Canada has been a “good global citizen” in this way.

Kazakhstan is not a member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Agreements made through UPOV can ensure that royalties flow back to the appropriate country of origin. This instance does not seem like Kazakhstan has any intention of returning royalties to plant breeders, Hadley says.

In one case, the declared shipping point was out of High River, Alta., however, Hadley says the CPTA has not seen any evidence that seed companies have shipped to Kazakhstan knowingly. It’s a difficult legal situation and most of the time, buyers that have been approached realize what is happening and don’t follow through with the transaction.

“If you see someone you don’t know, and it seems a little strange that they’re buying this quantity to go to that place, ask some questions,” Hadley says of precautions taken by seed companies. The major companies use a declaration form to confirm Canadian citizens are buying seed and intend to grow it in Canada.

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