Not as wheatful as expected

Certified seeds turned out spurious: Punjab farmers

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Friday 30 April 2010

ImageFarmers  in Punjab reported low wheat yield this year. Even though the state agriculture machinery sold them certified seeds, not all seeds germinated, several farmers from Ferozepur district told Down To Earth (dte). They said the seeds were spurious.

On March 17 and 18, Sunil Jakhar, Congress mla from Abohar block in Ferozepur, raised questions to the state’s agriculture minister in the legislative assembly. Jakhar alleged the government sold ordinary seeds because of shortage in certified seeds, and that it pocketed the subsidy meant for farmers (see box). In response, the state government commissioned N S Kang, the state’s financial commissioner, development, to probe the allegations. He is expected to submit a report this month.

Punjab requires about 0.4 million tonnes of wheat seeds every rabi season. Over 80 agencies, government and private included, were engaged in preparing certified seeds in 2009-10. The state sold about 50,000 tonnes through its distribution agencies. punseed or Punjab State Seed Corporation Ltd, the nodal agency involved in the distribution of seeds, claimed it sold only certified seeds.

The Punjab State Seed Certification Authority is authorized to check the quality of wheat seeds.

It issues a certificate which is pasted on the seed bags. The label reads whether the wheat variety is checked, tested and fit for cultivation. After approval, punseed gives seeds to its outlets, private agencies and cooperative banks for distribution.

The certification authority checked and certified wheat seeds of 123 seed producers last year.

When dte  asked the authority about the results, it postponed information twice, and said officials were busy with wheat procurement and the information sought would not be available for the next two weeks. Its director Mangal Singh Sandhu added that the authority’s job is to certify samples, not distribute them.

The state agriculture department’s director B S Sidhu passed the buck, saying it was the certifying agency’s responsibility to check the quality of seeds. But obviously, one of the two agencies bungled because farmers are complaining.

Seeds were adulterated

Pawan Kumar Punia of Moujgarh village in Ferozepur has been growing pbw 343, a wheat variety that grows up to 100 cm in height, for long now. This year, for the first time, the height of the shoots varied. “This proves the seeds were adulterated,” said Punia.

Eight kilometres from Moujgarh is Kallar Khera village in Abohar block where Brij Lal’s produce is 0.6 tonnes per acre (0.4 ha)—four times lower than last year. “Usually, six to 10 shoots grow from one seed. This year only one shoot grew per seed. Some seeds did not germinate,” said Lal who has been farming for 25 years. Lal bought the seeds packed in bags with the logo of Punjab Agriculture University printed on it. He did not have any purchase receipt with him. A peon of the Kallar Khera Cooperative Society entered the details in a register and sold him the seeds in November 2009, he recalled.

Image The Punjab government sold ordinary seeds to farmers because of shortage in certified seeds, and also pocketed the subsidy meant for them
MLA from Abohar in Ferozepur

Image Early this year when I noticed the seeds did not bear shoots, I approached the seed dealer. He advised me to add fertilizers, but to no avail
Farmer in Raipura village

A little further from Kallar Khera,in Raipura village, Sunil Gilla expects wheat yield to come down by half. “Early this year when the seeds did not bear shoots, I approached the seed dealer from whom I had bought the seeds. He advised me to add fertilizers, but to no avail,” said Gilla who owns 6 ha and manages 2 ha his brother owns in the village. Gilla has been cultivating pbw 343 for 10 years now, but never faced a problem with yield earlier. “Unlike Sunil, I don’t expect yield in my farm to cross the one tonne per acre mark,” said Vikram, Gilla’s brother.

Other farmers in the district, mostly from Abohar and Fazilka blocks, have had to cope with low wheat yield, financial losses and apprehensions of whether they would be able to meet household expenses. As expected, the topic of spurious seeds dominated the monthly meet of Punjab Agricultural University Kisan Club on April 1, 2010. Farmers demanded answers.

The club’s president told dte the main reason was shortage of certified seeds in the state. “Spurious seeds from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan that are not recommended for Punjab were sold in the state. Our farmers had to bear the loss,” said Pavitrapal Singh Pangli, the club’s president. “High temperatures too might have contributed to the low wheat yield,” Pangli added.

Jakhar added that despite repeated notices on inferior and adulterated seeds, the agriculture department did not pay heed.

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