What’s the current status of Indian seed industry?
Having all types of agro-climatic zones, we are capable to produce seeds for all crops. Government of India has thrust on the quality seeds through its various schemes. A decade ago our seed production was insufficient for staple food like cereal, pulses and oilseeds. But, today, we are not only producing for our need but also exporting them.
How big is the seed industry in India and who are the key players?
National Seeds Corporation (NSC), a Mini Ratna company, has a turnover of around Rs 1,500 crore. Additionally, NSC has stake in 10 out of 15 state seeds corporations, functioning under the umbrella of their respective state governments. With 10 regional and 73 area offices, we are catering the demand of farmers from every nook and corner of India. We are producing certified seeds of nearly 600 varieties of 60 crops.
In terms of production, there are two segments in the seeds sector. First is ‘high volume and low value’ seeds. In this segment, we have staple crops like wheat, rice, pulses and oilseeds. They are high in volume but low in cost. Farmers need high quantum of seeds per hectare in this segment. Seeds in this segment are mainly produced by the public sector companies. The second segment is ‘low volume and high value’. For vegetables and hybrid crops, the seeds requirement is low but it costs high to farmers. Farmers need low volume of seeds per hectare here. Mainly, the private players are producing seeds for this segment.
What role growers play in the seeds production?
During the procurement, there are four classes of seeds. First is nucleus seeds, bred by the breeders. Then, the breeders multiplies these seeds as the breeder seeds. We take these breeder seeds and develop foundation seeds in our farms. Then, these foundation seeds are grown as certified raw seeds in our own farms as well as by our registered 8,000 growers under our supervision. Now, these seeds are taken to the processing plants. Depending upon the crop, we pay them 15-25 percent higher price than MSP or mandi prices, whichever is higher.
Farmers in remote areas do not prefer buying advance seeds for cereal crops, but produce them on their own. Please share your views.
Yes, it is a trend in remote areas. Genetically, there are three kinds of seeds. First is self-pollinated crops like rice, wheat, pulses and oilseeds. In this segment male and female parts exist in the same seed, so the chances of contamination is lesser than others – which generally happens after three years. Thus, farmers need to replace seeds in every three years. The second type is cross-pollinated crops like vegetables. In this segment male and female parts are in the different seeds, so the chances of contamination is very high. Thus, farmers need to replace seeds in every alternate year. However, hybrid seeds are produced from separate males and females. So, whatever crop is produced from them, they don’t produce seeds. And farmers need to use fresh seeds every year.
What challenges do you have to face in convincing farmers for adopting your seeds and how do you tackle them?
Under the National Food Security Mission, we produce higher quantity of seeds of cereals and pulses. Under this scheme, the government is pushing for quality seeds and educating farmers by doing demonstrations on block and field level across the country. Sometimes the government also provides incentives to the farmers for adopting new seeds. We also make farmers aware about the new seeds and their high productivity. After seeing the results farmers get convinced. We are also the nodal agency for supplying seeds under the schemes of central and state governments.
How has been the journey of National Seeds Corporation since its inception?
NSC was established in 1963. The basic idea was to pioneer seed business in India. In the beginning, NSC has been a bridge in importing developed varieties of seeds from US, Canada and other countries for multiplying them in India. All 15 state seeds corporations were established and brought up by NSC. We develop seeds certification protocols and provide it to the certification agencies. These agencies keep a check on the quality of seeds produced by seeds corporations as well as private companies.
The rising world population will put a pressure to grow more food in the future. What role NSC is going to play to feed the world?
The new varieties of seeds are developed in the institutes of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and agricultural universities across the country under National Agricultural Research System. Our mandate is to take them into the field. We multiply them to increase the farm productivity.
As there is a growing trend of declination of farm labourers, it is not viable for small and marginal farmers to buy tractors and other agri machineries. Thus, we provide them machines through custom hiring centres. We focus that the farm productivity should not get affected in the shortage of farm labourers.
Water efficiency is the core concern for agriculture. In this context, what NSC is going to bring for farmers to consume water in efficient manner?
Yes, water efficiency is a major concern for agriculture. Thus, we are developing varieties which need less water. Some crops, especially rice, need flooded water in the field. So we are working in developing such varieties of rice which would need less water without affecting the yield.
In addition, we are working on irrigation on efficient manner. We are building ponds for rain water harvesting. Recently, we have proposed a new technology called ‘Central Pivotal Irrigation System’ to the Ministry of Agriculture. It consumes half of the water used in traditional flood irrigation system. Currently, we are demonstrating this technology in our own farms. Moreover, we are also demonstrating sprinkler irrigation system in Rajasthan and Karnataka.
Please shed some light on the channel of marketing for reaching out to farmers.
We have our own sale points and dealer network across the country. We are also spreading our network to the ground level. We publish advertisements on local level about the availability of seeds. Apart from this, we supply seeds under various central and state government schemes. We prepare kits of new varieties and provide them to the state governments for popularising them among farmers. In addition, we provide seeds to the state seeds corporations as per the requirement of their respective states.
How do you see the future of GM seeds in India?
GM crops have to come in some produces like oilseed and pulses as we need a quantum jump in the productivity of these crops. They are already coming in the countries where GM is allowed. However, it has to come in a very cautious way. Once it is allowed, NSC will definitely work on it.
Many times sowing goes in vain due to late rainfall. Do you have any alternate seed availability programme for farmers?
We are the nodal agency on behalf of Government of India to run the seed bank scheme. Under this scheme we release alternate seeds to the state governments for low duration crops. These seeds can be sown after failed crop.
There are tracts of land classified as wasteland due to low rainfall where we can grow millets, having more protein than others. Is NSC working on it?
The government has focus on better nutritional crops. Thus, we have started production of millet and sorghum. We are trying to make availability of seeds of these crops so that the schemes for millet of central and state governments can run smoothly. Currently, we are facing a shortage of millet seeds. We have taken their varieties from International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT). We are also producing breeder seeds in the Directorate of Sorghum Research.
What are your future plans?
We have above 22,000 hectare of land in our farms. Some of the land is not under cultivation. Thus, we are bringing all land under cultivation with improved irrigation system. According to industry estimates, there is 50 percent shortage of fish seeds in India. Besides, we are trying to venture into fish seeds. As the government has launched Rashtriya Gokul Mission which would demand fodder seeds in the future. Thus, we are planning to venture into cattle feed seeds also. It will be made available to the dairy corporations in the country. For horticulture crops, we are going to increase the production of saplings. We have done tie ups with some multinational companies to push the hybrid seeds for increasing farm productivity. We aim to reach farmers with a complete package of seeds under one roof.