This week, Sakata Seed Corp. announced internationally that it has signed an agreement with the Republic of Indonesia to cooperate in the further development and production of its line of SunPatiens interspecific hybrid impatiens, based on the principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Under an agreement based on the CBD, Sakata Seed has worked with the Indonesian government since the early 2000s to identify the origin of the native germplasm collected in Indonesia to develop SunPatiens, and the two parties have agreed on how the indigenous genetic resources will be used for the further development of SunPatiens.
There are currently only a few cases in the world of such an agreement, based on the CBD in the category of horticultural plants, made between a resource-rich country and a commercial seed company.
Greenhouse Grower contacted Sakata Seed CEO David Armstrong to provide context about this agreement, what it means for Sakata Seed’s breeding efforts going forward, and how it will affect breeding in general.
How SunPatiens Was Developed Under CBD Principles
In the early 2000s, Sakata Seed and the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD) made a basic agreement for the company to have access to this native species, and Sakata developed the SunPatiens series of flowers in line with the principles of CBD. Starting with the basic agreement, Sakata has been using Indonesian collection of genetic resources of impatiens by applying the material transfer agreement following the CBD convention.
“Sakata is a Japanese company, and Japan is a signatory to the CBD, and its legal framework for managing the CBD – the Nagoya Protocol – was signed in Japan,” Armstrong says. “Because Japan has been supportive of the concept of CBD, Sakata has aligned with the national intention to do the right thing under this treaty.”
In exchange for using the native germplasm that helped the company develop SunPatiens, Sakata pays a share of the SunPatiens royalty proceeds to the Indonesian government. Sakata also provides technology transfer as a non-monetary benefit of sharing germplasm, by giving breeding support to the Indonesian Ornamental Crops Research Institute (IOCRI) over the next five years. In addition to having the company’s breeders give lectures on breeding technology to IOCRI, the two parties plan to conduct joint collection, evaluation, and selection for the genetic resources in Indonesia. In exchange, Sakata will receive preferential rights for commercialization of the new superior varieties that IOCRI obtains from its support.
Under the most recent agreement in March 2016, both parties will proceed with joint research that will further contribute to the development of even better cooperative structures for sharing genetic resources while conserving biological diversity.
U.S. Breeding Companies Currently Exempt From CBD
While the U.S. is also a signatory of the CBD, the treaty has not been ratified in the U.S., which means that American countries are not legally compelled or obligated to follow it. Because of this, Armstrong says, U.S. breeding companies might either not be aware of the CBD, or they may see it as being an unreasonable restriction that would limit innovation.
“Through the ages, breeders have been able to go into these countries, gather germplasm, stuff it into a bag, and go back home and start working with it. So there’s been no sense of ownership and certainly no obligation to compensate anyone on the origination and the germplasm gathering, which has led to the innovation we have now,” Armstrong says. “The CBD adds a layer of complexity that wasn’t there in the old, free, grab-and-run model. Breeders might feel less inclined to go and take that trip to the Amazon. If they do, they might not get the material because in negotiations with a counter party, they might say no or ask too high a price, and breeders might walk away or not be able to afford to breed with it.”
The CBD requires Sakata as a breeder, if it is gathering native germplasm from a country, to be mindful of who would have a claim to said germplasm, and negotiate with the country and its agricultural department to use the native germplasm in exchange for compensation of some kind.
“So let’s say I go into Brazil and I find something – there would be a path to follow. I would have to go to the agriculture department and start the process of negotiation,” Armstrong says. “However, if we find some interesting germplasm in the U.S., well it is not a ratified member of the convention, so conceivably, we wouldn’t have to start those discussions, but there isn’t a lot of native germplasm probably left to exploit in the U.S.”
More Breeders Complying With CBD Will Elevate The Industry To A Higher Level Of Integrity, Armstrong Says
Armstrong says Sakata Seed as a company would like to see compliance with the spirit of CBD from other breeding companies, including ornamentals and other crops, for the elevation of the agricultural industry.
“At its height and most morally pure level, it’s intended to make sure that the genetic resources are used wisely, and not plundered or destroyed through the process of gathering,” Armstrong says. “But then, it’s also a question of equity and not exploiting particularly developing countries or poorer populations, by kind of ripping off germplasm and not giving them any material advantage to that.”
Respecting the CBD and aligning with it would make the industry better, set a fair playing field, and be mindful of the global impact we have, Armstrong says.
“There is an opportunity here for the industry – not just for flowers but more broadly – to recognize that we operate in a global world. The genetic resources are limited and there is a kind of ownership and a claim to them. People are making money off of these genetics – a lot of money in many cases – and I think it’s reasonable under CBD to be mindful of that and operate with that level of integrity.”