The Indian seed industry has made rapid progress over the past 50 years, maturing because of the ceaseless efforts of thousands of men and women, who have created a strong R&D base and given us a competitive advantage in ensuring quality. India is endowed with diverse agro-climatic conditions, high level of technology expertise, trained and skilled manpower, suitable land and abundant sunshine for agriculture. The country, therefore, has immense potential to emerge as the leading provider of seeds to the world. We can export varietals for all kinds of field crops, vegetables, forage crops and flowers.
However, considering the developments in terms of the new and emerging disruptive business operating models and processes aligned with innovative technology interventions, there is a need to invest in concrete initiatives for further strengthening the Indian seed industry as part of “Atmanirbar Krishi.”
The Indian seed industry, as a sub-sector of the agri-inputs industry, has been the most vibrant in terms of innovation and growth over the past four decades, contributing to a significant increase in productivity and profitability of farmers in India. The well-balanced seed quality legislative framework, set up by the Seed Act, the New Seed policy, 1988 and National Seed Policy in 2002, boosted private sector participation in a sector that had its foundations laid by public sector seed systems. However, much needs to be done in terms of further reforms and policy interventions.
The role of new technologies, like molecular-marker based selection approaches to fast-track breeding programmes for development of new/superior plant varieties, needs to be further strengthened as an integral part of the seed industry. Also biotechnological and molecular approaches can improve the quality assurance systems. An emerging area, which utilises biotechnology and nano-technologies and can contribute significantly to productivity and profitability of farmers, is seed treatment with biological inoculants. This can also be promoted on a large scale as part of seed-applied technologies.
The Indian seed industry can become a globally competitive, export-oriented and self-reliant industry, especially for several Asian, African, East European and South American countries, which share similar agro-climatic conditions like India as, with respect to international trade, most countries allow seed imports subject to the following: (a) Import permit based on sanitary and phytosanitary certificates and (b) Variety evaluation in the importing country to ascertain its suitability to the agro climatic conditions.
Currently, there are no significant export incentives available to the seed sector though the export potential is estimated at more than $ 5 billion per year based on various industry estimates. India can offer seeds for export to many countries with suitable sub-tropical and tropical agro-climatic regions in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and so on at affordable prices similar to our pharma and agro-chemical sector. The following incentives can help.
Incentive to the extent of 20 per cent of the seed value that is exported must be considered because in sectors like pharma and garments, similar incentives have been available for a long time to encourage exports in the initial stages. These incentives can be gradually brought down to 10 per cent after five years. A provision of Rs 100 crore may be adequate for the next five years and Rs 100 crore for the next six to 10 years.
Reimbursement of the cost of variety evaluation in any foreign country is a progressive policy. It may be considered here, too, as the seed companies have to incur heavy expenses for variety evaluation, which is a pre-condition for obtaining export orders. This expense needs to be reimbursed at least to the extent of 75 per cent by the Government. A provision of about Rs 100 crore may be adequate for the next 10 years for meeting plant variety evaluation expenses for export purposes. Seed manufacturers add to economies of the importing countries and help get more foreign reserves into the country. Hence they should be rewarded with up to 30 per cent subsidy.
India has lacked a seed export promotion council for a long time. The Government, under the trade and export promotion council, should institute one with industry representatives and ensure that seed exports amount to 10 per cent of total agriculture exports.
India has three major seed hubs in the country. But given our vast agro-climate, we can cater to demands from Africa to ASEAN countries. The Government needs to allow Indian and foreign seed companies to breed seeds for export purposes in special agro-zones. These zones may function like SEZs. They need to be equipped with dry docks, good transportation, seed testing facilities and so on to facilitate swift exports. A single window clearance counter can be established for fast tracking permissions.
An “Atmanirbhar Krishi” or self-reliant seed sector needs the SAARC markets and good economic relations between SAARC countries. The Government and industry need to step forward and create a SAARC seed forum, which will help ease-of-doing-business in the sub-continent and also provide avenues for international trading without restrictions. This body should strictly be an economic one for policy and regulatory advocacy among the SAARC countries. The Indian seed sector will grow immensely if we can spearhead this drive.
Finally, climate change is causing a rapid shift in the demands of seeds globally. Very soon, many nations won’t have the financial resources to evade this crisis. But we can be a hub for seed research for the world. Our versatile climate allows us to research and co-evolve new varieties that may be suited for many countries. For even one or two varieties at the right time can change the fate of the nation and bring millions of dollars into India. Hence the Government needs to provide development grants to Indian R&D companies so that they can track future challenges, assess demand and create a seed bank for Africa, Latin America and ASEAN countries. The Government may also partner with African nations to outsource their seed R&D to us. This would boost innovation here while providing lesser developed nations an access to cheaper research and seeds.
(The author is Director, Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India)
Originally published for the Pioneer.