National Seed Association of India working to free Indian seed firms from monopolistic multinational companies
Oct. 9, 2017
M Prabhakar Rao, the Chairman and Managing Director of Hyderabad-based Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd (NSL), is known for taking on multinational companies over the issue of patents. Rao was recently re-elected for the third time as the President of National Seed Association of India (NSAI), the largest body representing all major public and private sector seed companies. In a tête-à-tête with BusinessLine, he says certain MNCs, with vested interests, have created false impressions in the past.
The agriculture sector has been under stress due to reasons ranging from deficit rainfall to chronic drought conditions. How badly has this impacted the seed business?
There is an increase in cotton planting this year. However, there is a reduction in planted areas of bajra, maize and hybrid rice. The vegetable seed market has, however, witnessed a fall in the first half of this calendar year. But, overall, due to the acceptance of quality seeds by farmers, the industry is quite bullish.
Indian seed companies have locked horns with Monsanto over Bt cotton. What is NSAI’s role?
NSAI is working for the proper implementation of the Indian Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to free its members from monopolistic and anti-competitive practices indulged by certain MNCs.
Such practices resulted in high Bt cottonseed prices for farmers, besides eliminating several small- and medium-seed companies from cottonseed business in the past decade.
Though NSAI, as a policy, does not interfere in bilateral issues, it does not hesitate to intervene in the matters impacting the seed industry as a whole.
The issue is in court right now...
Yes. We are contesting. Contrary to the impression created by certain vested interests, the present legal issue is not a bilateral one. Around 14-15 seed companies, out of the 49 sub-licencees of Monsanto, took up the matter of trait value with the government, requesting for an amicable solution. They had even approached NSAI for mediation.
However, Monsanto spurned NSAI’s offer to mediate and dragged these seed companies to courts and even initiated arbitration proceedings against them.
As a result, most of the seed companies, unable to incur huge litigation costs, had to compromise with Monsanto. The Indian seed industry had engaged competent IPR firms to defend farmers’ legal rights.
There are reports that R&D efforts into seeds have been under stress...
This is a wrong impression. It is pertinent to note that the R&D spend of the members of NSAI is far higher than the R&D spend of members of any other seed association. It is also important to note that the crops covered by the members of NSAI are much larger in number as MNCs focus only on a few crops.
The Indian regulatory system, the IPR laws and the National Seeds Policy-2002, clearly encourage R&D investments.