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Seeding troubles for farmers

Seeding troubles for farmers
Highlights

Farmers in several parts of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are bitterly complaining of spurious seeds, resulting in untold miseries. Repeated assurances by government officials and ruling politicians remain unimplemented. It’s a travesty of justice that we cannot provide quality and reliable seeds to our farmers, leave alone better prices, credit, other inputs, etc. 

Farmers in several parts of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are bitterly complaining of spurious seeds, resulting in untold miseries. Repeated assurances by government officials and ruling politicians remain unimplemented. It’s a travesty of justice that we cannot provide quality and reliable seeds to our farmers, leave alone better prices, credit, other inputs, etc.

The government has to prepare and monitor seed production and formulate a supply plan to meet the seed requirements season-wise, based on the normal and targeted cropped area. But, failure of extension service, gradual withdrawal of state agencies from seed sector, entry of monopolies, introduction of unreliable technologies in seed production, hoarding and black-marketing due to bureaucrat-trader nexus etc., are all playing havoc with the supply of a basic input for agricultural production.

The governments have to prepare and implement contingency plans to ensure seed supply wherever emergencies arise due to a host of factors, especially unpredictable climatic conditions effecting changes in cropping pattern.

Both the Telugu states are in fact important sources of seed production. The Telangana government intends to transform the state into the seed bowl of India. Yet, farmers complain of erratic supply and spurious quality of seeds supplied, resulting in failure of crops. Failure of crops after investing their meagre resources is proving to be a death-knell for hapless farmers.

As the hybrid seeds dominate the current agricultural operations, farmers’ seeds self-sufficiency is seriously undermined, giving way to entry of market forces. The government neither intends to nor seems to be able to regulate the seed production in the private sector.

A decade ago, the Report of the Commission on Farmers’ Welfare, which was constituted by the united Andhra Pradesh government and headed by noted economist Jayati Ghosh, observed that the problems of farmers include: the untimely supply of seeds; inadequate supply of seeds; supply of spurious seeds; supply of non-certified seeds; poor germination or low crop outputs; high cost of seeds supplied by private sector, especially with regard to commercial crops; input suppliers including seed dealers acting as moneylenders and promoting inappropriate use such as excessive fertiliser or high cost seed.

It’s shocking that most of these problems still persist and some of them have turned worse, too.
When hybrid or transgenic seeds are introduced, farmers are not adequately and properly informed about the nature of seeds, the cultivation needs and the possible outcomes.

Often, the outcomes are exaggerated to convince the farmers of using a particular variety or company seeds. Farmers become an easy prey to distortions in information and lack of independent data with the farmers and brazen marketing practices adopted by the private seed companies.

As the Jayati Ghosh Committee recommended, the state government should play a proactive role in analysing the experience and disseminating results widely among farmers so that they are informed by an independent and an objective source about all the costs and implications of using new varieties of seeds. This becomes much greater imperative as more and more transgenic seeds come into use.

The convergence and consolidation of agribusiness conglomerates is proving to be detrimental to the interests of farmers. With the steady shift of agriculture from food to commercial non-food crops, this cartelisation and its grave implications continue to mount.

The German Pharma and agro chemicals company Bayer has struck a deal to take over American seed major Monsanto. The justification for such deals is that merger of companies operating in complementary activities would benefit farmers. But, the experience is otherwise. The mega acquisition would create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and agro chemicals. The Monsanto accounts for 26 per cent of global seeds market while Bayer has 18 per cent of world’s pesticides market.

Such business deals are not without adverse implications for farming community. The farmers will be compelled to use hybrid seeds and excessive pesticides thus seriously undermining the self-sufficiency of farmers in agricultural operations.

Besides, such mega deals have cost implications for farmers as the prices of inputs would be monopolised. The governments are finding it increasingly difficult to regulate seed and other input markets due to such oligopolistic trends in agribusiness.

The weakening of public owned agricultural research institutions has further accentuated this trend. Noted economist C P Chandrasekhar explains how the consolidation of seed and other agricultural input markets evolved over decades.

Starting from a scenario in which there were a large number of independent seed companies in mid-1990s , the industry evolved along directions that resulted in the six leading companies – Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer , DuPont , Dow Chemicals and BASF – controlling close to two-thirds of global seed market. The convergence will further reduce the players to only four.

The government should ensure that seeds should not be sold without specific certification. This would limit if not eliminate the curse of spurious seeds and exaggerated claims of seed quality by vested interests. Ensure availability of quality seed and other inputs at affordable costs and at the right time and place.

Right to quality seeds should be the basic right of the farmers. In case the crop yields are adversely hit due to the spurious quality of seeds, the farmers have to be adequately and timely compensated. The erring companies should be made accountable for market malpractices. The seed procurement by public agencies is often riddled with corruption and nexus with seed traders. The procurement of seeds should be made efficient and accountable.

As the National Farmers Commission headed by MS Swaminathan recommended, community seed and germ plasm banks should be encouraged for both conservation and breeding purposes. The government must urgently intervene to ensure that quality seed and other inputs reach farmers at affordable costs and at the right time and place.

The production of good quality, disease-free planting material in all clonally propagated species and seeds and planting materials of varieties suitable for processing will help farmers in areas where production and processing are linked.

The MS Swaminathan Commission has rightly observed that quality control is becoming increasingly important. Control has to be exercised over false and exaggerated claims for inputs with laws in place for penalty.

Companies have drastically lowered the minimum germination rate, they assure farmers. In the case of seed, this has fallen to as low as 60 per cent which implies that a village buying 1000 bags of seed pays for that number, but gets only 600 in effect.

A Seed information system should be put in place. An information system for quality seed to track production, preservation and distribution will facilitate the timely procurement of quality seeds and the maintenance of seed banks and seed grids all over the country depending upon the geographical priority.

This database will also help analyse diseases and pests that affect the yield and in monitoring the use of plant protection chemicals.

Seed availability and seed replacement rates need attention. There is not only mismatch between seed availability and demand of seeds of different varieties, there is also a serious problem about the assurance of quality and prices of particularly the genetically modified seeds.

Seed banks, particularly established and managed by farm graduates, could be a full time quality non-farm employment avenue. The seed banks are important especially for ensuring contingency crop production in the event of droughts and floods and other natural disasters as well as for ensuring timely planting.

Seed villages for different crops, strategically located throughout the country, with at least one seed bank located in each large village or cluster of small villages will ensure better income not only from seed production but also from enhanced and sustained production.

The urgent need is to sow farmer-friendly especially small farmer-conducive policies in agricultural sector. Seeds are only one such input that require urgent attention. The agricultural policies should focus on comprehensive reappraisal of emerging needs of vulnerable farming community.

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