Most of India still cultivates rice from pure-bred seeds, something which prevents companies backed by multinationals from expanding their market
The Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), a lobby group for private seed companies, recently organised a closed-door meeting in Delhi to push for hybrid paddy seeds in India on a large scale.
The Delhi meet saw stakeholders such as seed companies, governments, scientists and other agriculture experts meeting on a common platform.
Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Kailash Choudhary and Bihar’s agriculture minister Prem Kumar also attended this meeting. Choudhary assured FSII that the government would undertake research and development of hybrid paddy seeds soon.
Bihar is one of the largest consumers of hybrid seeds. Kumar assured FSII that his government would further expand the area of cultivation under hybrid paddy seeds and also invest in research and development.
Why hybrid seeds?
Currently, 94 per cent of the area in India that is under paddy cultivation either uses Open Pollinated Varieties (OPV) of seeds or inbred ones.
OPV seeds, if properly isolated from other varieties, produces seeds that sprout into plants very similar to the parent.
Normally, each rice flower contains both male and female organs. This allows the plant to reproduce itself through self-pollination or inbreeding.
Thus, in inbred rice seeds, the offspring or succeeding generations would have the same genetic makeup. Most of the rice that we see in fields today is from inbred seeds.
Inbred seeds are quite cost-effective and can be saved and used for the next 6-7 years. Only six per cent of India’s total 44 million hectares of paddy cultivation is of hybrid seeds.
The majority of hybrid seed cultivation is done in relatively under-developed states such as Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. These states have lower productivity in comparison to other rice-producing states like Punjab and Haryana.
Here is the catch: Seed companies push for hybrid paddy seeds because such seeds mean business — not just that of seeds but also of pesticides. Hybrid seeds are prone to pests and diseases. They require pesticides that could be supplied by the same companies.
Hybrid seeds cannot be used twice. That means a farmer would need to purchase hybrid paddy seeds every year. Though the yield doubles with hybrid seeds, at the same time, investment cost also increases in terms of price of seeds and pesticides.
Companies vye for the huge potential market of hybrid seeds that is yet to be explored.
“But the problem is that states like Punjab and Haryana already have a better yield through OPV,” said AS Hariprasad, principal scientist (hybrid rice) at ICAR-India Institute of Rice Resources, Hyderabad.
Telangana is the largest producer of hybrid seeds, followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka. Out of the total hybrid seeds market in India, paddy has a market share of only nine per cent. The major part of the hybrid seeds market is of Bt cotton (41 per cent), followed by maize (15 per cent) and fruits and vegetables (13 per cent).
Despite the market share of 9 per cent, the area penetration of hybrid paddy is just 6 per cent of total paddy cultivation. In case of Bt Cotton hybrid seeds, its area penetration is more than 90 per cent of India’s total cotton area. In case of maize, its area penetration is more than 60 per cent across the country.
The companies want the government to push for hybrid paddy in other states too.
“Without support from the government, companies cannot expand their market,” said a scientist who attended the Delhi meeting on condition of anonymity. “They have succeeded in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh with help of state governments. They now want to bring some policy change at the central-level to spread across the country,” he added.
In 2018, the total market for seeds in India was valued at Rs 4.30 lakh crore. It is projected to increase by Rs 6.45 lakh crore. Around 50 per cent of the global seed market is controlled by a few multinationals such as Bayer AG (Germany) and its subsidiary Monsanto Co, DuPont (USA) and Chinese-owned Syngenta AG.
According to the latest market study released by Technavio, a market research organisation, the hybrid seeds market in India is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of almost 13 per cent during the forecast period.
“We work for small farmers but these companies are pressurising us to push for hybrid,” said a senior agriculture officer from Punjab who participated in the meeting.