Geneticists around the world are competing to produce a cannabis seed that does not yet exist: one that thrives in climates with only 12 hours of light year-round but has a low THC content. Colombia, with its diverse geography and tropical climate, has become an ideal place not only to look for that type of strain, but also to cultivate seeds that can resist the fungal diseases caused by humidity and seeds that will never surpass the low thresholds of THC established by the countries that have legalized the hemp.
What Colombia is doing is different from other breeding efforts in the hemp industry. Until now, most of the hemp cultivation for CBD has taken place in North America, Europe and China, in latitudes with long summer days and short summer nights.
When Colombia legalized cannabis in 2016, a stark difference from other legalization frameworks emerged, making it a very attractive R&D destination for plant breeders. The Colombian government registers and certifies cannabis seeds to ensure that they are stable, homogenous, unique and worthy of certification. In fact, Ecuador legalized medicinal cannabis late last year and is in the same position as Colombia with a 12-hour daylight cycle. Andres Luque, who is in charge of cannabis regulation at Ecuador’s Ministry of Agriculture, said his agency would not create a registry of cultivars, but instead rely on the Colombian registry. This goes far to show that, in their efforts, plant breeders in Colombia are already setting the foundations of a genetic library that could easily benefit the entire tropical area of the globe.
Seed certification is still new to growers, who navigate a confusing patchwork of regulations between and even within nations. In the United States, for example, a hemp variety that can be verified in Colorado may not be suitable for planting in Florida. The European Union and Canada, which legalized low-THC hemp in the 1990s, have several approved hemp cultivars. But these are generally limited to fiber and grain varieties, and it takes years of rigorous testing to certify new cultivars. Government-certified seeds would instill confidence and attract farmers around the world, according to Ryan Douglas of Canopy Growth Corp. And, unlike the EU, the process of registering and certifying a crop in Colombia is faster, about six months in some cases.
Earlier this year, a venture capital firm named Savanna launched a trade association called Abesco, an acronym that translates as Association of Breeders Exporters of Certified Seeds in Colombia. This association represents about 10 of the more than 30 companies that can export and have registered cultivars, and was formed to build a path to communicate with the government, in an effort to educate. The standpoint of the association is that the seed trade in the United States is like the far West, and there is no way for farmers to insure themselves from buying trash starting material. All that starting material needs is a final outcome product that tests below 0,3% THC. But that clearly exposes farmers to failure, without a standardization in the quality of seeds. Furthermore, most countries want and need to be sure that they are importing safe material. The national Colombian registry would serve exactly this kind of needs.