Most of India still cultivates rice from pure-bred seeds, something which prevents companies backed by multinationals from expanding their market
This blog was originally published on September 9, 2019
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.
1. Kailash Choudhary, Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare in his speech, spoke about agriculture in general. He brought out the point as to how agriculture needs be taken up by youth and that the sector will have to be rebranded in a way that people choose it as a profession. He further said that researchers and scientists should work towards developing quality seeds. However, as mentioned in your article, the minister has never spoken about any assurance to FSII that the government will undertake research and development of hybrid paddy seeds.
2. As mentioned in your article, Prem Kumar, Minister of Agriculture, Bihar, has said in his speech that he welcomes researchers and scientists in Bihar to help the farmers in increasing their profitability. The minister has never spoken about any assurance to FSII that his government would further expand the area of cultivation under hybrid paddy seeds and also invest in research and development.
3. The article mentions — “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.” We would like to highlight here that hybrids are bred for resistance to various diseases and pests as well as they are tolerant towards water-deficit and soil degradation. Which means, hybrids will require less pesticides.
4. The article mentions — “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.”
We would like to highlight here that investment on seed is five per cent of the total cultivation cost. Using hybrid seeds, farmers gets 20-30 per cent more yield, saves on labour costs due to less spraying of pesticides and also cost of pesticides, which will prove to be a better return on investment for the farmer. It is also a fact that states like Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, etc with lesser hybrid adoption use large amount of pesticides. On the other hand, states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand etc which use higher amount of hybrid seeds, have less usage of pesticides. Having said that, farmers have the option of using different varieties other than hybrid seeds.
5. The article mentions — “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).” We would like to inform that these figures are inaccurate.
6. The article mentions — “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.” The current organised market is about Rs 18,000 crore. The unorganised informal market could be of equal size, although no reliable estimates of this is available. Hence, the numbers provided in the article are highly exaggerated.
7. The article mentions — “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.” We would like to highlight here that the Government of India promoted hybrids under National Food Security Mission. But the current set of hybrids have a certain grain quality which suits the coarse grain growing regions and also the regions which have been traditionally low yielding regions. This is the reason that penetration of hybrid rice happened only in certain states. The fine rice growing and high yielding states like South India, Punjab and others have seen very low penetration of hybrid rice in spite of support from state governments. This is the reason the scientists recommended in the seminar that we should invest more money in research to bring out hybrids that give more than 20 per cent hybrid vigour, have the fine grain qualities and give a high head rice recovery of 80 per cent. These are essential ingredients for expansion of hybrid rice acreages. The speakers at the event, who represented various government and private organisations, have spoken that policy support from the government for awareness of farmers will help them realise the benefits of hybrid rice. Nowhere, has FSII or any member/speaker spoken for a policy change at the Central level.
Points 1 & 2 Ministers spoken at length on agricultural issues and the agenda of organisers. I drew my inferences from their long address.
Point 3 There were a couple of presentations in that programme which showed hybrid seeds are prone to pests and diseases. Even the scientists present verified this claim.
Point 4 There is a detailed report Hybrid rice in Odisha: What is in it for Odisha's smallhoders?
It is the result of a fact-finding visit of ASHA to Bhawanipatna city in Odisha, which clearly proves how the cost of cultivation is going up due to more usage of pesticides in hybrid seeds. The cost of hybrid seeds too has gone up.
Point 5 This market research shows that the major amount of hybrid seeds are of Bt Cotton, followed by maize, fruits and vegetables.
Point 6 The market value of seeds (including hybrid seeds) is exponentially high. It is a multi-billion dollar industry in India. My figures are based on discussions with a couple of scientists who are engaged with seeds industries.
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