Hybrid Seeds: Securing Food

In the wake of climate change, declining land & water resources and increased pest attacks, farmers are now moving towards high yielding hybrid seeds. Today, around 60 percent of corn and millet crops are hybridised and for cotton the rate is more than 90 percent. Mohd Mustaquim reports on current hybrid seed market scenario, challenges and future projections in India.

Hybrid Seeds: Securing Food

In the wake of climate change, declining land & water resources and increased pest attacks, farmers are now moving towards high yielding hybrid seeds. Today, around 60 percent of corn and millet crops are hybridised and for cotton the rate is more than 90 percent. Mohd Mustaquim reports on current hybrid seed market scenario, challenges and future projections in India.

Considering the rising challenge of climate change with rapidly declining land and water resources augmented by increased pest attacks, there is immense potential for high-yielding seeds and technologies for insect protection, efficient weed management, drought and flood tolerance, heat and cold tolerance and virus resistance.

Thus, the introduction of hybrid seeds led to one of the biggest science-based jumps in crop productivity. From the farmer’s perspective, hybrid seeds have many advantages including higher yield potential, improved plant vigour, resistant to adverse environment conditions, improved resistance to stress and disease which is especially appealing for commercial growers and a better return on investment.

Besides, the plants have stronger standing and bear uniform fruits with the desirable qualities including heavy fruit setting, good size and colour. This results in output that is better, both quantitative and qualitative, and thus helps fetch better returns for farmers thereby helping improve lives.

Ranked 5th in the world, the Indian seed market is estimated to be Rs 15,000 crores. The rising population and consumption will further write the fortune of the sector. According to a report, ‘India Seed Industry Outlook to FY’2018 – Rapid Hybridization in Vegetables, Corn and Rice to Impel Growth’, released by Ken Research, the hybrid seed market has grown at a compound annual growth rate (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.

Today, around 60 percent of corn and millet crops are hybridised and for cotton the rate is more than 90 percent. Farmers are now making a shift from farm saved seeds to high yielding varieties and hybrids resulting in increased productivity.

One of the leading hybrid seed companies, Monsanto offers hybrid maize and vegetable seeds, besides high-yielding hybrid cotton seeds fortified with Bollgard technology for insect protection.

“Our DEKALB hybrid seeds are offered in 25 high-yielding maize hybrids, best suited to India’s diverse agronomic and environmental conditions. Farmers continue to show a lot of confidence in the brand as they have experienced phenomenal results over the years,” says a Monsanto India spokesperson. 

“The high–yielding Seminis hybrid seeds offer more than 110 distinct vegetable seeds across major crops like beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, pickling cucumber, gourds, hot pepper, muskmelon, onion, radish, squash, sweet pepper, tomato and watermelon,” the Monsanto official further adds.

For farmers, hybrid seed means a choice of improved crop varieties. By combining offers across seeds product categories, the growers’ increasing demands can be met. Continued investment in R&D is delivering a range of new technologies to the market and capitalising on global germplasm base and extensive expertise in breeding.

“We are 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,” says Dr. KC Ravi, Vice President – Commercial Acceptance and Public Policy, South Asia, Syngenta, another global leader in hybrid seed industry.

The Bumpy Ridet
Today, fragmented landholding, increasing prices and demand, deteriorating natural resources and climate change are the major concerns of the seed industry. One of the most vital inputs, seed is recognised to be cheapest input for raising farm productivity.

“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,” says the Syngenta official.

According to industry experts, differential taxation, seed licensing and registration policies amongst States make it difficult for seed companies to do business smoothly across the country. Lack of modern mechanisms and skills to extend information about upcoming technologies to farmers limit the benefit of newer technologies to only a handful farmers.

“Regulatory uncertainties on biotech trials and intellectual property constrain research-based companies to invest freely in new technology development in the country. More clarity on germplasm access, utilisation and transfer would encourage companies to invest in order to develop India as their regional research and manufacturing hub,” says Sharad Khurana, Country Manager, DuPont Pioneer India.

Farmers Outreach
Bringing solutions alone cannot serve the desired objectives. To reach the farmers with right solution, there has to be farmers’ awareness programmes on the ground.

Thus, the seed companies, through their agricultural extension services, share knowledge and best practices with farmers about managing agriculture through farmer meetings, training, demonstrations. Syngenta makes farmers aware through Syngenta Learning Centres (SLCs) about its technologies and solutions.

“This helps them grow more and better quality food while using fewer natural resources through simple practices like proper water management, timely irrigation, judicious use of fertilisers, balancing of micro-nutrients, correct application technology and the well-timed usage of crop protection products to counter various pests and diseases,” says Ravi.

Similarly, since 2010, Monsanto runs Monsanto Farm AgVisory Service (MFAS), offering mobile-based value added services on crop management and agronomic practices. It is a customised approach to provide information to farmers on a variety of topics that help them produce heartier crops and bigger harvests. “We continually reach out to our farmer-customers through various means to share information on new products and to have feedback on existing products,” says the company official.

DuPont Pioneer too gives crop management suggestions to farmers through its two programmes – Farm School and Pioneer Paramarsh. “Through Farm School, we impart trainings on right agronomical practices and technical know-how to rural youth. On the other hand, Pioneer Paramarsh, a toll free farmer helpline number, builds customer connect and extend technical advisory, crop management tips and product solutions to farmers across India,” says Khurana.

For the Long-Haul
To further research in agriculture, Monsanto globally invests approximately US$ 1.5 billion (about Rs 7,500 crore) annually in R&D to offer farmers improved seeds in corn, cotton and vegetables – two thirds of which is advanced seed breeding, about a third on biotechnology traits.

“Data science and information technology (IT) have emerged as major enablers of agricultural growth in the country and Monsanto is at the forefront of the technological revolution to boost productivity and streamline the agriculture systems and processes,” says the company spokesperson.

On the other hand, DuPont Pioneer offers value-added products that improve farm productivity and raise income levels. “Our next generation corn hybrids will be able to withstand higher stress and will be suited to mechanised farm operations. We are highly focused on converting land for hybrid rice and mustard, thereby creating more value for farmers, contributing to food security and reducing the edible oil import bill for the country,” says the DuPont Pioneer official.

Similarly, ‘Syngenta’s Good Growth’ plan is particularly relevant to India as agriculture is the mainstay of Indian economy and will support farmers in growing crops more efficiently, conserving existing land, improving biodiversity and integrating the vast multitude of smallholders into the mainstream of the developmental process.

“In India we will improve productivity of key crops like rice, wheat, soybean, corn, cotton and tomato by at least 20 percent from existing level without using more land, water or inputs,” says Ravi.

The Great Expectations
Agriculture continues to be of strategic importance for the Indian economy providing livelihood to more than half of the population. But, India is still to realise its full potential in terms of yield, processing and exports. A recent report by McKinsey and CII says, India has the potential to increase its value of agricultural output by 130 percent in 2030.

However, India is 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.

The challenges being faced by the farmers are several, including unpredictable weather, non-availability of labour, lack of irrigation facilities etc. Therefore, it is imperative to have a robust policy environment which is conducive to research – in developing better quality seeds, advanced irrigation facilities and mechanisation. This will spur research & innovation and help farmers benefit from the best inputs for their agricultural needs.

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