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Create Seed Systems

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The availability, accessibility and affordability of improved seed varieties at the right time and in sufficient quantities, is crucial for increasing farmers’ incomes. Many research studies have revealed that the use of recommended seed varieties and quality seeds increases profi ts. However, the availability of such seeds during the sowing period is a problem faced by farmers. Farm-saved seeds of nondescript varieties still contribute to about 50% of the cropped area of most crops like pulses, millets and oilseeds. Replacing the farm-saved seeds with either certifi ed, or truthfully labelled seeds, will have the potential to increase farmers’ yields and profi ts by 30%–40% with very little investment.

The existing formal seed production agencies—including public sector agencies like the National Seed Corporation (NSC) and State Seed Corporations (SSCs), as well as private companies—meet just about 30%–40% of the seed needs of the farmers. However, these agencies tend to focus on seed production for major commercial crops like cotton and vegetables, where they can avail of high profits. The seed availability for rain-fed crops like pulses, oilseeds and millets, is not sufficient, especially in remote villages and backward states. Most of the farmers still use farm-saved seeds of old varieties released 20 years back, even though new varieties with 20%–30% higher yield potential are available. As a result, farmers’ yields of these crops are lower by 50%– 60% compared to their potential yields observed at the research stations.

Large-scale seed production requires availability of seed material—both breeder and parental seed lines—from which the seed companies (either public or private) can produce certifi ed or truthfully labelled seeds for wider adoption by the farmers. Most of these parental lines and breeder seeds are in the control of a few public research institutions and private companies, which are working in silos, and which restrict the free movement of these seeds. If small private companies, or farmer producer organisations (FPOs) want to use the parental line of a particular variety for multiplication and seed production, in order to distribute to a large number of farmers, there are many procedural hurdles. Experience shows that it is almost impossible to obtain parental seed lines from a third party, even from public-funded institutions.

But the free movement of parental seed material is essential for innovations in seed systems, and in order to increase the availability of locally suitable varieties and seeds for different agroclimatic conditions. Hence, there is a need to develop an open-source platform for sourcing parental seed material, in which all the stakeholders— both public and private seed companies and FPOs—should be members, with a nominal membership fee. A list of the parental seed material available with all the organis ations should be provided online, and can be shared with whoever puts in an indent for a particular seed material in a time-bound manner, upon payment of a nominal fee.

The easy availability of all types of parental seed material on such a platform will create scope for the development of new varieties—suitable for local agroclimatic conditions—even by small seed companies and farmers’ organisations. This will create a local market for improved seeds, in which everyone can participate, and will end the monopoly of few private companies over seed-marketing channels. This will ultimately increase the number of companies supplying seeds to remote villages, as well as the number of seed varieties available in the local seed market. There will also be an increase in the choice of seed varieties available to farmers, allowing them to make their selections at suitability cheaper rates as compared to the existing monopoly prices.

Timely availability of the right variety of seeds in local seed markets should be the objective of seed planning. Existing seed planning is confi ned only to the formal sector—which considers the demand and supply conditions of the seed varieties released and supplied through public seed agencies like the NSC—utterly neglecting the informal seed producers who meet about 50% of the total seed demand.

Along with the estimation of the demand and supply of each seed variety for each agroclimatic condition in the local seed markets, there is also a need for the inclusion of seed production plans of the informal sector, by estimating the amount of seeds required, and the amount supplied through formal and informal sources.

To meet the seed demand for a year, planning should start at least three years prior. As such, there is a need for the adoption of three-year rolling plans, which should take into account year-toyear climatic variability, and constitute contingency plans in order to meet the changing varietal preferences and consequent seed requirements.

The identified varieties under rolling plans should be available in each village either through public and private seed companies, or through local production by FPOs, or even through institutions like the farmers’ coordination committees (FCCs) in Telangana. There should be a penalty clause, in the event of companies being unable to provide the seeds in time—that is, before the sowing period— especially in remote villages.

Quality of the seeds in terms of germination percentage and genetic purity is an important factor for profi tability of the farmers. Although the formal sector is controlled by state seed certifi cation agencies, quality still remains, a big problem, with frequent reports of spurious seeds. The widespread use of Bt3 cotton seed varieties, even before their offi cial release, is one of the best examples of lapses in the regulatory framework. The informal seed sector should encourage the formation of clusters of 25–50 acres, and such clusters should be given participatory guarantee certifi cation. Provisions for the same can be included in the Seed Village Scheme of the Government of India.

The above measures will ensure sufficient competition in the seed market, encourage companies to serve remote and backward villages, and supply quality seeds to increase farmers’ profitability. A

Amarender Reddy
Hyderabad 

Updated On : 16th Mar, 2018

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