Strategy Paper on Seeds and Planting Material to Ensure Food Security

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Vision:

“A dynamic, innovative, internationally competitive, research based seed industry producing high performance, high quality seeds and planting materials to benefit farmers for sustainable Food Security”.

Mission:

• Multifold increase in the income of Farmers;

• Crop wise target of increasing SRR by appropriate strategy;

• Make Seed industry higher investment friendly and research oriented;

• Develop PPP model for the larger benefit of farmers;

• Taking skill development at revolutionary scale;

• Awareness campaign for farmers to choose right seeds with right price;

• Community Seed Banks and Seed Village Program to be encouraged;

• Revival of Agricultural Extension Service throughout country;

• Market linkage with every crop production system;

• Seed Crop Insurance using weather linked assessments.

“Subeejam sukshetre jayate sampaddyate” means good quality seeds, if planted in good field, yields in plenty. Seed is the most important input of agriculture and important tool to feed growing population. Seed is the vehicle to bring benefits of biotechnological and genetic engineering researches to farm sector. Seed contains hope, prosperity and future for the human being. In coming future, all nations will try their best to acquire best seeds through biotechnological research, genetic manipulations and patenting. Needless to say that such a nation can prove to be most powerful in the world. Indian seed industry comprise of 70 percent of seeds as saved seeds used by farmers themselves and remaining 30 percent is occupied by marketed seeds. The size of branded seed market is increasing at a good rate and is expected to increase further as farmers become aware of importance of good quality seeds. The trend is also converting demand of open pollinated seeds into hybrid seeds for better yield, features and added value. It is obvious that immense opportunity exists due to increasing demand for branded seeds by Indian farmers. There is humongous opportunity of creating seed ventures because of the need of converting unorganised sector into organised sector. We have to increase productivity and at least double food production with declining land and water availability and limited farmers. Newer production techniques and technologies suited to Indian agriculture and in seed development that would ensure good yield even under constraints of water and land. Newer technologies including biotechnology are required for food and nutritional security.

Farmers' Needs

While looking at the activity of a common Indian farmer, we observe that he is the captive of certain basic problems of Indian farming. The most important factor is very low yield, thanks to lack of access to technical advancements and inability to pay for high quality agro inputs. The low yield leaves a farmer with low marketable surplus, low price realisation and subsequently low purchasing power. This low purchasing power compels him to go for expensive credit dealers combined with low quality inputs, which is prevalent with small land holdings. The farmer relies on dealer’s information and sub optimal use of inputs which ultimately results in crop losses due to inadequate defence against weeds, pests and diseases. We all should know that the farmer can produce food by his untiring efforts but in current scenarios he’s looking for input, farm management skills, buy back arrangement of produce, finance and crop insurance. He wants quality inputs like seed, pesticides, fertiliser, and bio-fertiliser implements. The farm management requirement includes latest knowledge of farming technology and latest skills for optimum yield from the field. Buy back of produce is one of the major areas where intervention is required, as due to lack of the same, the farmer is unable to get the right price for his produce. There is also the demand and supply factor due to which largest section of farmers is at loss. To purchase inputs and investment in farming management, farmers always need low rate interest credit but due to lack of proper organisational support they are compelled to take loans from local money lenders. Insurance is the latest development in the farming sector which promises to give coverage to the farmer and his crop. In case of crop being damaged and lost partially or fully, due to unpredictable weather conditions, crop insurance can play a major role in helping the farmer in bad days.

Farmers are gradually shifting from low value crops to high value crops. Despite the small holdings, most farmers who have access to the market and have adequate irrigation facilities have been opting for a shift in production from low value food-grains to high value commercial crops particularly vegetables and pulses. On the other hand, the pattern of vegetables consumption in the country is constantly changing, noting that the contemporary consumer profile is more health conscious.

Perspective of Seed Industry

The seed companies are having new strategies to incorporate various changes to adjust to consumer behaviour trends in order to remain competitive. In this sense, seed companies have taken a the leading role in the segmentation process of the main vegetable crops and they are continuously launching conventional as well as unconventional products with higher yield and desirable features. If we examine the market composition, we see that still farm saved seeds are 70 percent and commercial seeds 30 percent, Of the commercial sector: private 75 percent and public 25 percent (by volume); of the private sector: organised is 60 percent (with research capabilities) and the small sector is 40 percent (no research).

Currently, the priorities of multinational vegetable seed sector operating in the country involve species whose markets have been converted to F1 hybrids, not just for the value of the seeds, but to ensure the intellectual property rights. However, this situation from another perspective can give rise to a great opportunity for public institutions and national seed companies intensify their efforts in research and development focused on the selection of new cultivars and seed production technology for tropical and subtropical conditions. Rapid and uniform establishment in vegetable crop production in the field is critical to achieve an adequate stand and guarantee productivity and quality of the product. The demand for high quality products, the growing use of new varieties of open pollinated or hybrids in various vegetables has been observed in recent years. The use of hybrid seeds, for example, generally enables farmers to achieve higher productivity, uniformity, and superior quality products. Seed companies offer new cultivars, genetically superior, and with many advantages, and have also provided some seed treatments.

Seed Laws and Enforcement

Beside common laws covered under all commercial and industrial activities, we have very strict regulatory regime under regulations like – Seed Act, 1966, Seed Rules, 1968 and Seed Control Order, 1983. The New Policy on Seed Development, 1988: first wave of liberal outlook opened windows for increased collaboration between domestic and foreign players. The Seed Policy, 2002 recognises the importance of technology as well as tries to protect the farmers. The Seed Bill, 2004, based on, Compulsory registration on the basis of VCU, Farmers rights, Compensation for non performance and transgenic seeds etc.

Private Sector in Seed Industry

As of now the industry has proved its strong scientific capabilities and breeding programs and responded to changing climate as well as changing food habits of consumers. The products have been released through comprehensive multi-location testing including on-farm testing of pre-commercial hybrids as per national and international testing protocols. The decisions of commercialisation of new hybrids are taken on the basis of research trial data supplemented by on-farm test data and farmer feedback on performance and preference. High adoption of private bred hybrids by the farmers all across the country is a testimony to the testing protocol followed by the private industry. The private sector has also enhanced farmer education to enable them to take informed decisions. It’s the role in increasing the seed replacement rate that is undeniable. It is expected that the private sector will continue to create a diverse, competitive, responsive and a mature seed market for the benefit of farmers. It will show much bigger responsibility and self regulation to favour industry, farmer and the nation.

Seed Research

Plant breeders would be challenged to produce seeds that are equipped to handle salinity, drought, diseases and insects and increase the yield in less time and fewer resources. There is need of doing more research for off season vegetables and climate resilient varieties which can tolerate a wide range of temperate fluctuation and also tolerant to different abiotic factors, beside such customers needs, better field holding capacity, transportability, longer shelf life and suitability for food processing. Now customers are demanding more and more customised products. We should also focus on developing seeds of high yielding crops suitable for organic farming since more farmers may go for the same. Since climate is changing unpredictably, we need to develop climate resilient varieties and hybrids. We need to select our varieties with wider adaptability to help farmers grow the crop in adverse conditions also. We need to focus on research of underutilised crops and varieties and try to rediscover their nutritious value as well as their ability to grow in most adverse conditions. Seed companies need to focus on drought resistant varieties and heavy dependence on the rains. In order to produce more from less, we need appropriate technologies which can increase productivity and reduce the losses, apart from saving from the vagaries of nature. To utilise 70 million hectares of uncultivable land, seed development is needed for dry and saline land cultivation technologies. To improve the quality of life, quality seeds required either by itself or through an effective public private partnership.

Role of Agricultural

Biotechnology and Seed

The population is growing very fast and cultivable land is decreasing. Recent forecasting says that the Indian population is about to grow to 1.4 billion by 2025 and 1.9 billion by 2050 due to which food demand will be double in 2025 and triple in 2050. If we observe recent developments in agricultural biotechnology, we can hope that this can help us to a greater extent. In recent years, the production of hybrid varieties with high productivity potential and resistance to diseases by conventional breeding with the aid of new tools of biotechnology has revolutionised horticulture. They are now available in the market or expected in the future; the launch of new varieties of vegetables with features were not previously achieved through conventional breeding. Therefore, Agricultural biotechnology and plant genomics for high yield, disease and insect resistant crops, abiotic stresses: Drought and salt tolerance, Longer shelf life technologies to assist post harvest measures, Nutrient enrichment technologies, No till farming to conserve the environment and prevent top soil loss, HT crops technologies etc. Global warming concerns: technologies and crops which would absorb the extra CO2 from the atmosphere and also reducing carbon emissions.

If applied appropriately, agricultural biotechnology is accurate, faster, scientific and safe. Genetic engineering is now coming to help us to improve nutrition, ripening, increase shelf-life, improve flavour, texture and colour, improve food-processing features. and give functional products/neutralceuticals. These are certain value additions which are a must to meet the demand of modern and next generation growing population. Tools of biotechnology such as molecular and marker assisted selections, enable scientists to achieve the goals in an organised and accelerated manner. Biotechnology must be looked at as a tool and not as a complete solution. Biotechnology must be integrated into an overall agricultural developmental strategy. Regulatory cost must be brought down by more innovations. Linkage between public and private sector is a must to commercialise biotechnology products.

Custom Production

Our country is going to have the upper hand if it focuses more on seed production activity and seed business as a whole. It can supply high quality seeds to other parts of the country. Its climate is highly suitable for different crops which require unique climate for seed production. Here, farm labour is cheap and easily available for seed production activity. The manual work is still very high in seed production like sowing and weeding, spraying, emasculation, and hand pollination particularly in vegetable seed production. Seed production is going to be the farmer’s choice. This is important for assured and higher return than existing commercial crop cultivation, for assured buy back of product and assured market. The seed production activity itself generates employment to other members of society besides giving full employment to all family members. Since seed production activity brings into contact with technical supervisors and agricultural officers, the farmer himself gets long-term benefit and knowledge. Seed growers need to have certain specific features. Growers must have resources like land, labour and investment. They should be quality conscious and must be able to control quality during seed production and seed activity. A majority of farmers are low risk takers and not apt to seed production activity so they need to be trained and educated regarding various intricacies of seed production. The government should come into activity and support infrastructure like roads, irrigation, electricity etc.

Quality Control and Seed Certification

With the progress of private seed sector and their increasing demand we can say that quality is owned by the company itself without being dependant on any accredited agency. The traditional seed certification is highly recommended in field crops and in the business done by public sector corporations. More and more proprietary hybrids and varieties in field crops and vegetable seeds have no place for seed certification systems. The way seed certification system has been working in the country, it has lost its relevance, impact and trust completely. It’s an era of self certification to be done by seed companies using many innovative tools. Similarly testing of seeds for physiological quality before marketing has been replaced by many biotechnological tools. So it’s time for the government to either revamp the seed certification system or dissolve it.

Community Seed Bank

It’s important to conserve the traditional varieties of various farming communities. We should work hard to start projects like Community Seed Banks in various localities. We should involve farmers, panchayats, NGOs as its stake holders. It can ensure the storage and continuity of traditional seeds which otherwise may be lost in the process due to neglect. We can also apply various traditional knowledge and practices of farmers to store and conserve seeds of great economical and nutritional importance.

Seed Village Program

We can develop a mechanism to produce seeds by our own farmers under seed village model. Through seed village concept many problems of the seed industry and seed production, like isolation problem, supervision, transportation and infrastructure related problems can be solved. Majority of farmers can come together and decide to organise seed production programs to meet their own requirements. The excess quantity of seeds can be traded outside the group for monetary gains. Even the group can approach big seed companies for the acces of larger seed production programs. The collective bargaining, production, quality management, logistics, better prices, assured lifting are the benefits of this concept.

Seed Exports

There is humungous opportunity for exporting seeds produced in India like corn, paddy, sunflower, millets, cabbage, onion, carrot, beans, cauliflower, radish, peas etc. There is also scope of custom seed production which is organised by seed companies from the stock seed supplied from foreign companies. There is buy back arrangement and target is fixed with particular a company or companies on the other hand organise seed production with Indian farmers. This venture can be quite profitable because of higher price. This way we can earn foreign exchange by exporting seeds and extra benefits will reach to farmers.

Import Substitution

Presently many seed companies are importing seeds of peas, squash, hybrid cabbage, hybrid cauliflower, hybrid radish, hybrid carrot, slow bolting coriander, capsicum and hot pepper. Most of these seeds are produced in other countries in temperate conditions. This is because at present seed production activity is not well developed in temperate regions of India and also because of small land holdings and subsistence farming. Companies which are developing new hybrids in these crops in India send stock seeds in other temperate countries for seed production. However, if seed production can be done in India, we can substitute these imports of seeds and ultimately this state can save foreign exchange of the country. The only thing is we have to develop infrastructure and encourage our farmers and seed companies to undertake seed production activities in the state by providing them certain desirable facilities.

Impact of Seed Industry on the Economy

By developing the seed industry, we can increase income and purchasing power of seed growers. We can also generate employment in the state and make betterment of agriculture. The betterment of agriculture will certainly improve sentiments of other industries. High productivity agriculture requires optimum level of inputs. Seed is the most important input as it determines maximum potential yield. Improved high yielding genetics and high quality seed will increase productivity.

Areas of Intervention by the Government and Scope for PPP Model

The government should encourage diversification of agriculture and help in marketing of produce by developing linkages with purchasers. Farmers must learn that only value addition and diversification can increase their income. The government must help during calamities and it must extend irrigation facilities, roads and power supply. State governments have to develop certain effective mechanism for assured supply of quality agro inputs to farmers. It must work towards easy availability of credit facilities and covering more and more crops and its acreage under insurance. There is a dire need of promoting more entrepreneurship, skill development, information technology in seed and agribusiness sector. The companies need to be encouraged to establish production and packing plants in rural area through various incentives. The timely financial supports, subsidies, land allocations, tax breaks can encourage entrepreneurs to start seed businesses.

Employment Generation

The seed industry can bring huge employment opportunities for rural people by way of engaging in seed production, quality supervision, processing, packing and marketing. We can transform the life of farmers with small training and development and make them highly skilled for seed production activity. There is an increasing trend among farmers shifting towards high value crops like vegetable crops which can be possible only with the use of high quality seeds. Through sector skill council, we can train rural youth in various trades of the seed industry and can make them part of Skill India campaign.

Conclusion

Major interventions are needed at Seed research to deliver high quality, high performance seeds responding well in varying biotic and abiotic conditions. The seed is in the core of sustainable agriculture. Policy support will be an enabling environment. Emphasis is needed on High Yield Variety and hybrids with an increased seed replacement rate. We must rejuvenate Farm Extension systems. We have to trigger the Second Green Revolution through technological innovations. India has excellent natural conditions comprising of soil, water, and weather compared to other countries in the world. The region is highly suitable for agriculture and agribusiness. Looking into prospects of the seed industry, it can be said we have immense opportunity in the future. In fact it offers suitable opportunities to every class of farmers and entrepreneurs. Farmers are highly quality conscious and enterprising, an essential requirement for the seed industry. The state governments should take initiative by developing infrastructure and industrial environment. We can become an integral partner in the national agenda of Make in India, Skill India, Start Up India, Digital India etc and we must bring farmers in the mainstream.

All input suppliers, farmers, government machinery must be committed to supply and use only quality seeds and other inputs. An enabling legislative and policy environment but greater reliance on self regulation is needed. An effective public-private partnership for free flow of germplasm between public and private sector is a must. Smoother import of germplasm and planting materials for R&D and contract multiplication will increase international trade. Greater consumer education, consumer protection, and free flow of science based information to farmers are required.

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The author is a freelance writer