We Want Soil To Remain Alive And Healthy As Our Collective Future Depends On Them: Deepankar Pandey, NSAI

The Indian seeds industry has seen significant advancements in recent years, marked by increased investments in research and development, adoption of biotechnological innovations, and the introduction of high-yielding and disease-resistant seed varieties. IAmRenew’s Subhash Chandra Yadav spoke to Deepankar Pandey from National Seed Association of India (NSAI), the apex association of seed makers, on a range of issues including seed piracy, bio-fortified seed varieties, self-sufficiency, markets and more. Excerpts:

1. How has the seed industry evolved till date? What’s its present standing in the country?

Deepankar Pandey: The seed industry has experienced robust growth in India. It’s the first input in agriculture that decides the food security of India. Quality and appropriate seeds imply a good harvest and people get their required meal. Previously the seed market was small but now it’s a flourishing one. India has evolved as an importer of food grains to self-sufficiency now. In fact, we have become a reservoir of grains now and this has become possible only due to the robust R&D that we have in the seeds sector. We don’t have exact data about the actual size and growth rate of the seed industry because there are both formal and informal seed markets in India. The growth rate is being pegged around 4-6% every year where the government is producing around 25% of the seeds and the private sector nearly 75%. The seed replacement ratio is approx. 40%. Some crops require 100% new seeds every time the sowing is done like in the case of cotton.

2. Affordability and accessibility are real issues associated with the seeds today. How do you see that?

Deepankar Pandey: The seeds market is characterized by both public and private systems. National Seed Corporation, ICAR institutes, State agriculture agencies etc. are selling seeds to the government. Private companies’ reach is strong and they are present everywhere. There is no seed scarcity in India but every crop has its own story. There is no seed scarcity in rice. There are challenges in oil seeds and pulses. Presently some fruits and vegetables crops seeds are being imported due to the seed setting challenges in India.

3. The food production is largely tilted towards rice and wheat. Many say that inadequate development of seeds in other crops like millets, oilseeds and pulses is hampering the food diversity. How do you see this?

Deepankar Pandey: Though the country has self-sufficiency as far as food security is concerned, we lack some crops’ production as of today. For example, the seeds quality development with regards to oil seeds and pulses has remained weak. The R&D is a very costly thing in agriculture and companies are not able to meet it. It takes about 12 years to develop a variety. Breeding is tough in oilseeds and pulses. If the government supports us in these crops through subsidies in R&D, we will be self-sufficient in oilseeds and pulses too in near future.

NSAI seeds seed industry Deepankar Pandey food security

4. Seed piracy, sale of sub-standard seeds and frauds are common in the countryside and unsuspecting farmers are often cheated. How does the seed industry look into it?

Deepankar Pandey: There is already a robust Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Act and authorities to protect the interest of farmers and the industry. Indeed there is a challenge of pirated and duplicate seeds which puts the genuine players who innovate at loss. Presently, the seed industry is educating farmers. We remain in touch with the seed division of the Agriculture Ministry and concerned authorities to check the piracy in seeds. Every state has its seed enforcement law authorities and many of them are doing great work.

5. Hidden hunger is a huge problem in India as people do not have the required amount of nutrition in their bodies. Do you think seeds have a role to play in fixing this problem?

Deepankar Pandey: The Indian seed industry is focusing on bio-fortified varieties that are full of nutrition. We want to eliminate malnutrition. Most seed players are focusing on the bio-fortified varieties. These are special seeds where the plant takes the necessary nutrition from the soil and the grain is good to defeat hidden hunger. Public sector has taken a lead in seed bio-fortification and the private sector is also playing its role. The industry has gained speed in developing such varieties, production, certification and marketing. The publicity of bio-fortified varieties has been less but we are now focusing on that too. Actually, advertisements add to the cost of the seed price. This ultimately impacts the pockets of farmers. Hence, to remain competitive, companies spend less on publicity. But there is a case to publicize bio-fortified seeds.

6. Sustainability is a challenge with the present seed regime in India. HYV requires heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides. Is industry even looking at solutions for this challenge?

Deepankar Pandey: It’s a wrong perception that certified seeds or HYV demand high intake of fertilizers and pesticides. Pesticides and fertilizer companies are also doing their marketing among the farmers and promising them yield benefits. Seed is the first and most important component in farming but pesticides and fertilizers are larger industries with deeper pockets to market their products. The problem is that farmers are not doing soil testing despite it being free. He doesn’t know the actual health of soil.

As far as sustainability is concerned, the seed industry is educating farmers across the country on this front.  We are also developing seed varieties that are climate change resistant and varieties that require less nutrients to keep the cost less. Insecticide resistant seeds are being developed with speed. Seed companies are now adopting villages to further soil sustainability through education, awareness, training and demonstrations. We want soil to remain alive and healthy as our collective future depends on them.

7. What is our import dependency with regards to seeds?

Deepankar Pandey: We have import dependency in some of the segments like vegetables crops, fruits, oil seeds, pulses etc with regards to seeds. I think in the next five years we will be self-sufficient in these segments also if the government supports us. The agriculture ministry has already created two task forces for the purpose and we are hopeful.

Deepankar Pandey seeds seed industry food security

8. There was a lot of tussle between the Indian and foreign seed players. Has the dust settled somewhat now?

Deepankar Pandey: Now the business is smooth for both Indian and foreign players. Earlier they did have a tendency to monopolize the market but all with all thanks to the Indian IPR system, no undue advantage occurs to foreign companies. Today there is space for everybody to operate in the Indian seed market. Around 80% of the seed market is of Indian players. Many of the foreign players have entered into alliances with Indian companies.

9. How is digitization helping the seed industry?

Deepankar Pandey: SAATHI portal was launched recently which is furthering digitization of the products. This has also helped the data generation and collection. Now there is traceability of seed products that has also pushed the pirated or fake products of seed out to a good extent. QR codes are helping farmers in ascertaining the correct product.

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