Perpetually haunted by 'Seed Worries'
Kharif season is still a few months away but the farmers are already worried about availability of seeds for...
Kharif season is still a few months away but the farmers are already worried about availability of seeds for various seasonal crops and also of their quality. The government has been gradually withdrawing from the field yielding space to private companies, leaving farmers at their mercy. What is assured by the companies is high prices and shortages but not the quality, say some of the experts while ANGRAU claims they are actually producing ever more seeds for the benefit of farmers. Seed problem is Govt-made The traditional systems of selection, saving, improving and production of seeds have been deliberately replaced by the governments Last year it was worse than the previous year. That previous year was worse than the year before. Every year, farmers are facing an increasing problem of access to seeds. Good quality seeds are becoming rare as the number of hybrids are increasing. On the other hand, prices of seeds are increasing every year. So much so, farmers are now shelling out 10%-30% of per acre investment on seeds alone. There are administrative, economic, management and legal issues here. However, farmers who are forever busy with farming do not have information, knowledge or wherewithal on how to deal with these issues. The traditional systems of selection, saving, improving and production of seeds have been deliberately replaced by the governments. But is the seed shortage for real? A national report for kharif 2013-14 cites surplus availability in all seeds. This report which mentions 31 crops shows availability of 1.54 crore quintals of seeds, against a requirement of 1.40 crore quintals. In Andhra Pradesh this surplus is 4 lakh quintals, with availability being 32.43 lakhs against a requirement of 28.33 lakh quintals. However, past record shows that private seed companies, with the connivance of a few government officials, would continue to play tricks. In Andhra Pradesh, the problem of cotton seeds as surmised by government officials in 2012-13 kharif was that farmers wanted only a particular variety, of a particular company, despite the availability of 'good quality' of seeds from other companies. However, with 1,128 BT cotton hybrids introduced in the markets (from 2002-2012), farmers have to make a choice. Pricing of seeds is a major area of concern, with little regulation of the same from the government. Seed companies demand that price for Bollgard-I and Bollgard-II (Bt cotton seeds) should be increased. Accordingly across India, BT cotton hybrid prices were increased. Companies have been saying primarily the government has no say or role in fixing the BT cotton seed price. They want freedom to fix and sell the seeds, and would not undertake any responsibility for the quality of seeds. National Seed Policy envisions encouragement of private seed sector as a solution. Governments, both central and State, have exempted seed companies from income tax, provided incentives and encourage them to spread their trade networks by including them in seed subsidy programmes. As a result, seed companies are growing in revenues, despite problems being faced by farmers. In spite of negative experiences in seed sector, after the entry of private sector, especially proprietary seeds, government has failed to do a honest assessment of the situation and bring in relevant changes to help the farmers. Seed bill is pending in Parliament, merely because farmers have been asking for wider scope for regulation and decentralized regulatory system. Government investments are decreasing in seed infrastructure, research and production. Most of the funds are being directed to subsidies on seeds. However, farmers do not benefit from these subsidies, as these schemes are tied up with procurements, tenders, specific 'proprietary seeds' and corruption. Seeds supplied under these schemes are usually of low quality, and/or highly priced. A recent report by Centre for Food Safety and Save our Seeds, Seed Giants Vs US farmers, 2013, says, "in the last few decades, the U.S. has led a radical shift toward commercialization, consolidation, and control of seed ownership. Indian farming is also changing the same way, with active support of Indian government. There seems to be lot of distortion, fudging and deliberate misinformation being spread by the seed companies, primarily to increase the anxiety among farmers and mint profits out of such anxiety. Strict action to stop spurious seeds For the first time, government has allocated huge funds for Seed Village Scheme A to supply quality seeds to farmers at affordable prices Hyderabad: State government has taken up a big task to supply sufficient seeds for the next Kharif season under the Agriculture Action Plan introduced this year. Talking to The Hans India, the Minister for Agriculture Kanna Lakshminarayana said, for the first time, government had allocated huge funds for Seed Village Scheme to supply quality seeds to farmers at affordable prices besides ensuring quick multiplication of new seed varieties to meet the demand in the next two agriculture seasons. An amount of Rs 200 crore has been provided to implement the scheme in 1.50 lakh hectares to produce 27.41 lakh tonnes of certified seeds this year. The Foundation seeds will be supplied to farmers on subsidy basis, besides giving training to the farmers and provide financial assistance. Farmers will be selected in the 'Polam badi' programme which was already launched in the state. It is proposed to produce certified seeds of paddy, jowar, maize, redgram, greengram, blackgram, groundnut, gingelly, sunflower and ragi by means of varietal replacement. Laxminarayana said that the AP State Seeds Development Corporation (APSSDC) was entrusted with the task. The Corporation will make available and store 7,500 tonnes of certified seeds of different crops in addition to the foundation seeds proposed totaling to one lakh quintals per annum for meeting any contingency under the Seed Bank scheme. The other crop seeds such as cowpea and horse gram required under contingency will also be stored by the APSSDC. The Minister said that to produce good quality foundation seeds, the officials of the state Seed Farms and Testing Labs had been asked to utilize the funds fully and strengthen the infrastructure ensuring the supply of High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds of various crops. The government's aim is to increase seed replacement rate for achieving higher yields through distribution of HYV seeds, he added. To curb the increasing exploitation of farmers by private seeds companies, which were supplying spurious seeds at high prices, the agriculture department has taken stringent steps. Before the season begins, the seed companies should submit the test reports on the quality of seeds, conducted by the state owned seed testing labs only, to the department and seek no objection certificate to sell seeds. If any company was found violating the rules, seed supply license will be cancelled with immediate effect. In view of increasing cost of seed production, prices will be increased slightly when compared to last year depending on the variety of seeds and crops. Taking serious note of the 'bitter experiences' faced by the government due to shortage of seeds in the peak seasons in the last four years, the department has taken every village as a unit and launched estimation of the requirement of seeds for the next Kharif season which begins from June second week. The objective of this initiative is to ensure the required supply of seeds to every farmer without any delay. Are we prepared for the challenges? Field experience shows that organising community managed seed systems where farmers can produce and share/sell seeds locally is ideal Agriculture is as strong as the seed system of a country is. Government of India's initiatives of late are heading towards destruction of local self sufficiency and public sector seed systems. This became stronger with technology, legal frameworks and public support being favourable towards externalisation of seed and monopolisation of seed markets. Today most of the centrally sponsored schemes (like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Food Security Mission, various Technology Missions etc) are all geared up to subsidise the seed. Unlike the earlier days where public sector seeds were supplied under such schemes it is private seeds which are supplied now. Technological changes in Indian agriculture from the sixties onwards have improved the productivity of the major crops substantially. Subsistence agriculture has gradually transformed itself into market-oriented and market-dependent commercial agriculture. This process has tremendously increased the farmers' dependency on external inputs. Seed being one of the important inputs in agriculture, various business interests entered the arena of seed production and marketing. Seed Replacement Ratio (SRR) is seen as an indicator for development and farmers are encouraged to replace their seed every year. As a result, farmers are getting habituated to buy seed every year even in crops like groundnut which are highly self -pollinated. Rainfed areas have additional challenges due to their natural endowment and the socio-economic conditions of the farmers. In terms of technology development too rainfed areas and rainfed crops are neglected. For example, public and private investments are largely made in few crops and few varieties/hybrids which are high input responsive and have wider adaptation. In such situations many of such varieties/hybrids fail to adapt to the poor soils and moisture stress situations in the rainfed areas. Similarly, many crops grown in rainfed areas have high volume seed, open pollinated varieties which do not attract private sector entering into seed markets. In a situation where public sector seed systems are collapsing or gradually withdrawing, making quality seed available in all these crops is becoming a major challenge. Decline in cropping area under millets, oilseeds and pulses which were largely grown in rainfed areas can be partly be attributed to this apart from pricing support. Similarly, the increasing weather variations in the rainfed areas calls for a contingent crop planning which also should have a supportive seed system. Currently not much effort has been put on this. Now the major chunk of the subsidies on seeds are directed towards supplying seeds at a subsidised rates (from 30-50% subsidy). The annual outlays ranges from Rs 1.2 crore in Haryana to as high as Rs 500 crore in Andhra Pradesh. After 2007-08 there is a shift towards subsidising truthful labelled seeds of private sector in addition to the certified seeds of the public sector. This pushed the public sector seeds to back burner with their share becoming negligible. The Companies are interested only low volume and high value seed like cotton, chillies, maize and vegetables and in hybrids so that farmers perpetually are dependent on them for seeds. Major fallout of the current situation is that the industry is driving the cropping patterns. In AP in the last 10 years, the area under cotton has grown leaps and bounds and has spread to large areas which are not suitable for growing cotton. As a result today we have ended up with about 52 lakh acres of cotton in the state while only about 17 lakh acres is suitable for growing cotton. In this situation, field experience shows that organising community managed seed systems where farmers can produce and share/sell seeds locally is ideal. There are several such models established by CSA and other organisations in AP in districts of Warangal, Medak, Anantapur, Kadapa, Kurnool, Vijayanagaram Vishakapatnam, Sreekakulam etc. The farce called certification Companies are buying seeds from the open market and offering the same to farmers as certified ones Seed certification is very crucial in agriculture. But the very system of certification has become murky harming both the farmers and agriculture. The process begins with a research station producing breeder seed. Foundation seed is a product of that breeder seed. Next is certified seed. This is what is purchased by farmers from the market. Since the requirement for seeds is very huge and the government is unable to produce and supply all those quantities, private companies have come to play a major role in this business. In this situation it is for the government to properly check and certify the seeds issued which has not been happening. Companies have to procure foundation seed from research stations, sow them in fields and produce certified seeds. But companies are buying seeds from the open market and offering the same to farmers as certified ones. Those packs are not only sold in the market but are also supplied to government agencies such as AP Seeds, Oilfed, Markfed and HACA, which in turn supply the same to farmers at subsidized rates. What is to be noted is, the seed certification department does not have sufficient staff to examine and certify the seeds offered by companies. The number of such certifiers is just about 60. They have to take care of all varieties of crops. Each of them cannot inspect more than 750-1,000 acres in a season. Thus it cannot cross 60,000 acres at maximum, whereas, for instance, ground nut seed alone is grown in about two lakh acres. When the 60 officials cannot cover even half of the ground nut crops, where is the question of examining other crops? This is giving ample scope for falsehood by companies and also official corruption. Certificates are issued by officials without any kind of field inspections. This has been observed by us during our trips to the countryside. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) has tried to find out how such small staff could inspect fields and certify seeds through the instrument of Right to Information Act. But we were asked to pay thousands of rupees as application fees. When reputed officials like Rachel Chatterjee and Nagi Reddy were heading the department of agriculture they proposed giving subsidy amounts directly to farmers so that they could buy whichever seed they preferred. But it was given a go by after their exit from the department. ANGRAU is showing results Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) is one of the best institutions at national level in supplying quality breeder seed of several crops such as chickpea, redgram, blackgram, greengram, castor, sesamum, safflower, soybean and others which will be multiplied further into foundation and certified seed by state and national seed corporations, KVK's, NGO's etc and supplied to farmers. The University is producing the breeder seed of different crops as per the prior indents of the Andhra Pradesh and the national indents. The University occupies important place and produced 20,000 to 30,000 quintals of breeder seed every year out of 1.0 lakh to 1.2 lakh quintals at national level and the University seed is supplied to about fifteen states in the country . About 28% of the national breeder seed indent of rice varieties is being supplied from the University. Similarly 40% -50% of national breeder seed requirement of groundnut is being met from the University and was appreciated by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The seed production of different crops is taken up at 46 research stations, KVK's and Agricultural Colleges located allover the state and coordinated by this author as Director of the Centre. Intensive efforts and planning of the Director (Seeds) was responsible for the development of a new hybrid seed production area for castor from 2008 in Andhra Pradesh and helped the castor seed producers in getting maximum net income. Similar efforts were also made to produce and supply the hybrid maize seed in collaboration with the AP State Seed Corporation Limited in Maize crop. A number of Training programmes, to the Scientists, Officers of the APSSDC, APSSCA, Department of Agriculture, NGO's and KVK's are being organized every year to improve the skills of different seed producers. It is further planned to improve the infrastructure facilities such as storage facilities, processing units, seed farms development and irrigation facilities during the 12th Five year plan period and double the seed production and supply of the quality seed for the benefit of the farming community and to enhance the agricultural productivity through improving Seed Replacement Rate.