Time to seed the world

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Time to seed the world

Friday, 02 August 2019 | Indra Shekhar Singh/RK Trivedi

Time to seed the world

For better prosperity of the agriculture sector, the Government must allow farmers market access and promote Indian varieties globally

India is a biodiversity-rich country. We are the centre of origin for many crops, fruits and vegetables. Along with a rich bio-heritage, we have been blessed with all types of climate and soil. Our nation’s hard-working farmers, seed savers and plant breeders, along with mother nature, have co-evolved thousands of varieties to provide us with nutrition and also prepared us for drought, floods and climate change. In recent times, public institutions, along with the Indian private sector, have aggressively pursued this goal, too. Unlike other sectors, they have not only taken from mother nature but have also added to her bounty. Today, each Indian can proudly showcase to the world that we have achieved food sovereignty, while also conserving biological diversity in the sui generis way under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ambit.

India has the sixth largest domestic seed market in the world. The size of the industry is over Rs 20,000 crore and it will continue to grow at six to seven per cent. But we are far from the saturation point. Restrictions on export of seeds weigh heavy on growth. In 2017, the Indian seed exports were valued at $101 million, a paltry sum when compared to the global seed export market of $11,924 million. This was due to the lack of both harmonisation with international regulations and a strong national seed export policy. The Modi Government has the mandate to clean up the clogs and facilitate the development of mutually beneficial ties between national, regional and world seed markets.

Since 2008, India has been a participant of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Seed Schemes, which open up seed trading potential with over 60 countries. Our hybrids in corn, paddy, forage crops, millets, vegetables and cotton are popular in many countries due to their productivity and resilience. Indian farmers and plant breeders will find new markets from Vietnam to South Africa. Apart from bringing economic prosperity to the Indian farmers, this push may also help farmers of Kenya, Egypt, South Sudan and Uganda among others, double their incomes. India needs to promote its indigenous R&D and seed export as part of its economic diplomacy. Indian seeds should become part of all aid programmes given to countries so as to popularise them.

ASEAN countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar also present a ready market for Indian seed exports. Currently, we are trading vegetable and fruit seeds with them, but there is a huge potential for expansion. Take the case of Vietnam and India, both countries have huge coastline, which are threatened by salinity due to climate change. We have to work on a governmental level to share our seeds and biodiversity to counter these threats. India has many paddy varieties for salinity; we should encourage cross-breeding to climate-proof our rice production. 

Closer home, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka can be the top three destinations for all Indian hybrid seeds. Overall, Bangladesh reported 57 per cent, Nepal 88 per cent and Sri Lanka 83 per cent gap in supply in 2018-19. For paddy seeds in 2017-18, Nepal reported a gap of 701,398MT, Sri Lanka 104,000MT and Bangladesh 75,957MT. Similarly for wheat, Nepal reported 78,720MT and Bangladesh 33,490MT.

Our agro-climatic zones provide an opportunity for Indian farmers and breeders to be the leaders in seed production. We can become seed home for the world. We can exponentially increase our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and bring prosperity to rural India by sharing our superior varieties with other nations.

We can also increase this share by creating agriculture economic zones along the lines of special economic zone (SEZs). This can be done under  the “Make in India” scheme so that companies and Government agencies can get tax benefits and indulge in rigorous R&D. This step will strengthen the Indian agriculture sector by breeding superior seeds and preparing the crop for climate change. This scheme can be used to boost our FPOs, too.

Farmers and village clusters can be encouraged to grow seeds in partnership with various companies and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). This will ensure that the target of doubling farmers’ incomes is achieved by 2022 as they will have ready buyers for their produce. Additionally, growing seeds will fetch farmers a price far beyond the Minimum Support Price (MSP).  

The Government should also create an Indian seed standard and certificate that should be trusted across the world. We should rely on international standards and learn from their procedures. But to establish India as a strong force, we need to develop an indigenous standard through which we can smoothen seed exports and build regional trust.

The Government can further provide financial assistance for exporters under the “Market Access Initiative” scheme to encourage seed export business. States, which record good export growth, can get financial assistance to promote export-related infrastructure. Telangana has already shown much initiative for promoting seed exports.

Further, to promote export of seeds, the Government can form an autonomous body ie,  the seed export council. This council can have representation from the public sector, the Indian seed industry and plant breeders. It can work under the Ministry of Agriculture. This will be a novel step by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar to double farmers’ income. 

In addition to all these, we can institute a single point for quarantine testing and clearance for export of seeds. The Government can undertake these steps to facilitate seed exports from the country. Further, we can harmonise our biodiversity laws and create a special provision within the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) to smoothen regulations for the export of seeds. The NBA can play a key role in drafting these new regulations.

Our Intellectual Property Right (IPR) laws are also complementary to most African and Asian nations, who don’t recognise patents on seeds and they, too, follow the sui generis system under the World Trade Organisation. The Modi Government has a unique opportunity to take the lead in creating a universal system based on breeder rights and the philosophy of Vasudev Kutumbhakam, which also protects commercial rights of our plant breeders. Through this policy, we can allow Indian farmers and FPOs to enter seed breeding contract with farmers across the world.

As we chase the goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy, India needs a firmer grip on the globalised market. But will we allow our farmers to reap the benefits of globalisation? In the rush to fill our PDS schemes with cereals, we have asked them to sacrifice for nation-building, now are we willing to reward them? It is not late, the Government can make the start by extending the “Make in India” scheme to  Indian farmers and not double but maybe quadruple their incomes by 2022. We need to allow the farmers market access and promote Indian varieties across the world. It is now time for India to not only feed but also seed the world.

(Indra Shekhar Singh is Programme Director for Policy and Outreach at the National Seed Association of India (NSAI) and RK Trivedi is executive director, NSAI)

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