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Reforms are urgently required for greater efficiency and productivity in agriculture: KC Ravi, Syngenta

The introduction of hybrid seeds led to one of the biggest science-based jumps in crop productivity DR KC RAVI Vice President - Commercial Acceptance and Public Policy South Asia SYNGENTA talks to MOHD MUSTAQUIM about the hybrid seeds industry challenges and opportunities


Dr. KC Ravi
Vice President - Commercial Acceptance and Public Policy, South Asia, Syngenta
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The introduction of hybrid seeds led to one of the biggest science-based jumps in crop productivity DR KC RAVI Vice President - Commercial Acceptance and Public Policy South Asia SYNGENTA talks to MOHD MUSTAQUIM about the hybrid seeds industry challenges and opportunities

What is the overall hybrid seeds market size in India?
The hybrid seed market in India is estimated to be around Rs15,000 crores and the Indian seed industry ranks fifth in the world. Given the rising population and consumption of food in the country, it should climb further up the ladder. According to Ken Research, the hybrid seed market has grown at a stupendous CAGR of 36.1 percent over the period FY’2007-FY’2013. Overall, paddy, maize and vegetables are expected to drive the growth of Indian hybrid seed industry in the next five years. Robust growth is also expected in the Hybrid Vegetable Seeds segment.

How do hybrid seeds impact the farm production and help farmers?
The introduction of hybrid seeds led to one of the biggest science-based jumps in crop productivity. Hybridisation is a traditional breeding process in which two inbred lines from diverse backgrounds are crossed to create seed varieties with greater yield potential and enhanced biological characteristics than exhibited by either parent – a phenomenon called hybrid vigour or heterosis. From the farmer’s perspective, hybrid seed has many advantages, including higher yield potential, uniformity, improved plant vigour, improved resistance to stress and disease, which is especially appealing for commercial growers and a better return on investment. Crops in which breeders have achieved high levels of hybrid vigour, typically 15 percent or more, are dominated by hybrid varieties, which are continuously improved and adapted to current grower needs by the seed producer.

What are the developments going on hybrid seeds currently?
Syngenta has always had one of the most diversified portfolios in the seeds industry, globally, and we see consistently strong growth within this business. Syngenta is developing safe and effective crop products based on innovative research and technology. The richness and diversity of our germplasm, combined with molecular breeding, has accelerated the rate of innovation in seeds. 

For customers, this means a greater choice of improved crop varieties and hybrids. By combining offers across our seeds product categories we can meet growers’ increasing demands. Continued investment in R&D is delivering a range of new technologies to the market and capitalising on our global germplasm base and extensive expertise in breeding. All this is enabling us to meet growing demands for food and create characteristics that growers, retailers and consumers want.

What are the challenges that you face in this sector and how do you tackle them?
Some of the major concerns for the seed industry are a decelerating productivity growth rate, increasing prices and demand, fragmented land holdings, shrinking natural resources and the challenges of climate change. A seed is recognised to be the cheapest, yet most critical single input to raise agricultural productivity. Good quality seeds can result in as much as 15-20 percent yield increase. Any attempt to turn around our agricultural productivity will largely depend on higher replacement rate of quality seeds of high yielding varieties. Unfortunately, in spite of several efforts to ensure availability of good quality seeds, the replacement rates in most of the field crops are much below the optimum level.

The challenge for the seed companies is to keep up with technological innovations and changing crop patterns. While the acceptance of genetically modified crops continues to be a challenge, growing competition means companies have to step up spending on research and development.

Do you run any farmers’ awareness programs for seeds? 
Quality seeds alone cannot ensure productivity increase. Right agronomy and crop protection protocols are also equally important. In 2011, we moved away from a single product paradigm and developed fully integrated offers for key crops by bringing together our crop protection, seed care and seed portfolios. We help increase growers’ incomes through our integrated end-to-end solutions and handhold farmers through the entire growing process, thus helping them achieve better productivity and higher returns on investment. Extension and agronomy services are an integral part of our solutions that offer the best of chemistry, genetics and seeds.

Through our agricultural extension services we share knowledge and best practices with farmers about managing agriculture through farmer meetings/ training/demonstrations which are conducted regularly by our field force.

What future plans do you have for the sector?
We have embarked on an initiative called the ‘The Good Growth Plan’. This reflects Syngenta's belief that agricultural productivity must increase in order to feed the increasing global population. At the same time, farmland is being depleted through urbanisation and soil erosion while water resources are under increasing pressure.

Under this plan, we have to make crops more efficient, increase average productivity of world’s major crops by 20 percent without using more land, water or inputs, rescue more farmland, improve the fertility of 10 million hectares of farmland on the brink of degradation by 2020.

What relaxation, in terms of regulation and policies, does the industry seek from the government?
Agriculture continues to be of strategic importance for the Indian economy providing livelihood to more than half the population. But India is still to realise its full potential in terms of yield, processing and exports. Given the country’s agro-climatic conditions, the sector fulfills only 50 to 60 percent of the potential yield for most crops.

India is, however, at a juncture where further reforms are urgently required to achieve greater efficiency and productivity in agriculture for sustaining growth. There is an urgent need to invest heavily in farm research, mechanisation, rural infrastructure, providing better access to high value markets, better credit facilities and input use. There is a need of more than ever for integrated solutions that use the entire tool box from genetics to all through the various parts of chemistry for tackling the various challenges in agriculture.

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