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Linking breeding, plant genetic resources, and biotechnology in Kazakhstan

During 6-14 June 2011, a group of 24 national specialists from different institutions and regions traversed 1,400 kilometers of southeast, south, and southwest Kazakhstan in a travelling seminar organized by CIMMYT on breeding, plant genetic resources (PGR), and biotechnology. The aim was to evaluate the status of those research pursuits in the region, as well as prospects for their development, and to promote innovative technologies. The group visited farms and the region’s leading agricultural research organizations: the Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, the Kazakh Advanced Research Institute for Farming and Crop Production, the Krasnovodopad Agricultural Experimental Station, the Southwest Agricultural Research Center for Livestock and Crop Production, and the Kazakh Advanced Research Institute for Rice Production.

Seminar participants agreed that one of the most important tasks today is to increase crop yields by developing new varieties, mobilizing plant genetic resources, and using advanced biotechnologies—work now hindered by the weak link between biotechnology, breeding, and use of plant genetic resources in the country. Kazakhstan has stronger biotechnology capacity and more extensive plant collections than other Central Asian countries, but studies in those areas are conducted in parallel, without close interaction between breeders and biotechnologists. In most cases, biotechnology and molecular biology methods and developments stay locked away in the lab, with rare use by breeders and only rudimentary application to study, characterize, or use plant genetic resources for breeding.

Use of modern biological methods could significantly speed breeding, raise crop yields, and improve agronomic and economically-valuable traits. With Kazakhstan agriculture being categorized as ”risk farming,” biotechnology could help in breeding high-yielding, stress tolerant crop varieties.