Kazakhstan and Canada: Cold Climates, Warm Relations

ASTANA – Kazakhstan and Canada, two countries with harsh winters, small populations and lots of open space, are finding that their similarities are increasingly opening avenues for cooperation, particularly in agriculture.

As Kazakhstan continues to invest in its agricultural sector, the country’s livestock trade is growing. But Kazakhstan needs animals suited to its climate. Canada, with its long history of ranching—and equally fierce winters—is becoming an increasing significant partner in Kazakhstan’s evolving livestock industry.

The current value of Canada’s livestock trade with Kazakhstan has reached $50 million, and more growth is expected next year, Canadian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Stephan Millar told The Astana Times. Currently, Canada supplies Kazakhstan with beef and dairy cattle, genetic materials and hog industry products. Canada’s cattle breeds, including Canadian Angus and Canadian Limousin, are “ideally adapting to cold climate conditions of Kazakhstan,” Millar said.

Beef and dairy cows from Canada are estimated to account for about 20 percent of Kazakhstan’s livestock imports. In 2013, Canada exported 2,500 head of cattle to Kazakhstan, mostly through the KazAgroFinance programme, though some Kazakh agricultural businesses are connecting with Canadian suppliers privately. Agreements between Kazakh businesses and the Canadian livestock companies Alta Exports, Friesvale Farms and Xports International have recently been signed, the ambassador said, and there is every expectation that the trade will continue to grow.

The current trade is driven by strong interest on both sides, Millar said. The embassy has supported a number of recent visits by Kazakh delegations to Canada to explore possibilities for cooperation in agriculture, including raising livestock. Those missions resulted in both sides identifying prospective commercial partners, Millar said. Active industry groups also participated at a Canada-Customs Union seminar at this year’s Farm Fair in Alberta, Canada.

With the transfer of animals and genetic materials also comes the transfer of knowledge and technology in farming, feed growing, breed development and other practices. “By all means, bringing livestock could not be considered without [also bringing] the necessary infrastructure and knowledge in cattle farming that would help ensure the further sustainability and success of the project,” Millar said.

Canadian farmers are very concerned with their cattle’s treatment after export, Millar said. “This is why we support the Canadian exporters [who] also provide post-sale and farm management training services,” he explained.

Canada and Canadian companies and educational institutions also support a number of other knowledge exchange endeavours. This year, the Canadian Hereford Association made a financial contribution to the Almaty Farm School to help local farmers develop their knowledge of international best practices, and Canadian industries are also actively contributing to the improved traceability of the Kazakh cattle identification system, which also helps to track the imported Canadian cattle after its delivery to Kazakhstan, the ambassador reported.

“We also support a few Canadian cattle manager specialists who travel across Kazakhstan and teach the local farmers the best Canadian practices in cattle farming,” Millar said. Canadian Lakeland College is also currently working on a memorandum of understanding with the Kazakh Agrarian University in Astana. “I believe the project would become an excellent starting point in training the trainers and building another important component of the partnership,” he added.

The memorandum of understanding between Canada’s Department of Agriculture and  Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Agriculture currently provides the framework through which cooperation in research, information and knowledge exchange is conducted. It also aims to foster an ever closer and more active partnership between the two countries, he said.

The strong climate and soil similarities to Canada, Millar said, mean that many of Canada’s best agricultural practices can be introduced here successfully. It also means that Kazakhstan, with its own growing market and its proximity to others, has the potential to become another leading livestock producer and a supplier of quality meat to its neighbours. “I therefore hope that the Canadian cattle imported to Kazakhstan for reproduction purposes will help increase the breeding and productivity potential of local Kazakh herds. It is important to note that some of the local breeds, such as Kazakh Whitehead, have roots linked with Hereford, a widely produced breed in Canada.”

Beef may be king in the West, but Kazakhstan has another major meat market: horse. A Kazakh delegation visited Canada last year to explore the possibilities of acquiring Canadian breeding horses for Kazakhstan’s horse meat industry. Right now, Millar said, the governments of Kazakhstan, Canada and other Eurasian Union members are working out market access conditions for Canadian horse breeds. Canada is already a leading supplier of processed horse meat products to Kazakhstan. Live horses, he said, are likely to become another area of cooperation.

“The active interest expressed on behalf of some local business groups towards the Canadian horse industry makes me believe that the range of opportunities is really diverse. … More and more Kazakh industry representatives are expressing an interest in the Canadian meat processing industry’s capacities.” Horse and meat processing could be another area of cooperation in the future, Millar said. In general, the ambassador said, Canada and Kazakhstan have only scratched the surface of their potential agricultural cooperation. With so many similarities, the possibilities for exchange are as vast as the two countries’ prairies.