India: "R&D investments into seed sector under threat"
Sep. 25, 2017
|RAM KAUNDINYA, Founder, FSII
The formation of the FSII was the result of a protracted tussle between some Indian seed majors and MNC/research firms over the issues of royalty on seed technologies and respecting IP.
Ram Kaundinya, who held top positions in agri research firms such as Advanta, is among those who facilitated the founding of the new association. He speaks on the aims and objectives of the new association, on the current challenges that the Indian seed industry is facing, and the roadmap for the industry. Excerpts:
What are the current challenges the agriculture sector is facing?
The profitability of farmers is not increasing and selling prices are not encouraging. Farmers have not been getting good advice. When prices of pulses were going up, they went for pulses. But due to imports and high production, prices crashed. There must be a strategic plan based on informed insights, which should guide planted acreages and ensure good prices for farmers.
How is the seed industry faring?
The last year has been okay. Cotton suffered a bit, while corn did well. The vegetable sector is a growing segment. But then shortfalls in cotton could not be made up easily because of the large volumes in the crop. The crop is also bogged down by several controversies, including the cap on pricing, the order on licensing, lack of clarity on patents, and trials. The order on licensing could impact technology stewardship.
How is this going to impact the industry?
Technology stewardship oversees the way technology is being used. It allows them to see whether a company can follow the required protocols to correctly use technology. If you give it [licence] to everybody, then there will be no control on stewardship. It is a big concern and new technologies may not be coming. Bringing in a new technology and not having control [on it] ...who will come?
You said clarity on patents is lacking. Could you elaborate...
You have a patent for a trait under the Patents Act, but they say there is no patent if it is incorporated in a plant. They argue that the rules of Plant Variety Protection Act would prevail, and this Act overrules the patents you hold otherwise. This is a conflict between two Acts that protect IP. The government must take a call after studying the issue. It will, in turn, help companies to take a call on whether to go in for research in such areas.
These three [price control, seed tech licensing and lack of clarity on patents] have disturbed the industry quite a lot. Research and development investments into the seed sector are under threat. The atmosphere is not encouraging.
What could be the solution?
The government should have a list of priority crops and areas [such as drought, salinity, pulses, oilseeds] for application of biotechnology, where it can provide an enabling environment. If you have a priority list, the companies will be clear and come forward to invest in them.
The aggregate research investments by all FSII members is put at ₹550 crore per annum. This is about 75 per cent of the total research spend of the seed industry in the country. The industry now is in a dilemma on where to invest in research because of the uncertainty over protection of IP.
Take the example of GM mustard. The technology is still facing issues despite coming from a public agency. It is an oilseed where we have huge imports. The effectiveness and safety of the technology are proved through the data that is generated. But still there is no clarity whether it will be approved.