India’s seed industry is undergoing wide-ranging changes and is poised to tap the huge export market, says MJ Khan
Indian agriculture has come a long way since the Green Revolution of the 1960s. Meeting the growing demand for food, which is likely to increase by 75 per cent by 2050, is a challenging task. The focus of the second Green Revolution or the so-called Evergreen Revolution should be seeds, the most critical of all farm inputs in agricultural production, holding the key to increased productivity. High-quality seeds, coupled with biotechnology and other crop improvement technologies, offer tremendous opportunities for improving the productivity of Indian agriculture.
Seeds are distinguished by their multi-functionality. They are carriers of genetic information, are tools for technology transfer, and are capable of transforming farming systems. In the changing climate scenario, agricultural production requires new approaches for the development of new crop varieties that are more resilient and more efficient in the use of resources. This can be achieved through the development of the seed sector.
With the aim of boosting India’s potential to emerge as the global hub of seed production and sourcing, the Indian Chamber of Food and Agriculture (ICFA) launched the India Seed Forum during the inauguration of Seed World 2019 at Bengaluru in September.
Given the genetic strength and agro-climatic diversity of the Indian seed sector, our seed exports can grow 10 times in the next five years from the current level of $100 million with support provisions under the new Agri Export Policy (AEP) 2018. To build and promote proactive cooperation between the institutions, the government and the industry for greater synergy of efforts to boost exports, the forum envisions providing policy, technical and trade facilitation and market access.
The forum shall engage major seed companies and other key stakeholders to establish ‘Brand India Seed’ globally and help companies tap the export market aggressively with the support system provided for the purpose.
The seed sector is a potential area for trade and technological application to innovate and evolve. There is a need to look at the sector through the lens of standard regulations for collaborations and international trade, farmers’ profitability and sustainability.
The forum shall serve as a national platform for the seed industry and stakeholders for sustainability and quality seed production, GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification, policy and trade facilitation, business interactions and events, providing market access support systems for expanding the seed trade and exports.
a) To develop a vibrant seed sector, fuel technology-based growth and contribute to the competitiveness of the seed industry by promoting and supporting innovation, crop stewardship, infrastructure development and investment opportunities.
b) Offer investors, venture funds, investment companies and other key finance intermediaries a first-hand insight into seed companies which aspire to expand their businesses internationally.
c) Enable the diversification of the seed export basket, destinations and boost high- value seed exports and establish ‘Brand India Seed’ globally.
d) Represent the interests of the key stakeholders at the national level and organise trade meetings, sending and receiving seed business delegations from countries in Asia and Africa.
e) Help in making advances in developing climate-resilient varieties, promoting GAP certification, block chain technologies and shaping business models around the needs of smallholder farmers in India and other countries, offering better value and supporting crop diversity.
The ICFA, as the apex policy and trade facilitation body, is focusing on promoting agri exports under AEP-2018 in a big way in collaboration with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA). Under AEP-2018, a slew of support provisions are available to help the seed industry access the global market. The ICFA is engaged in discerning critical challenges emerging in the Indian seed sector along with creating opportunities for development, value addition and international trade to accelerate growth in the food and agriculture sector globally. With its 27 industry Working Groups and sector-specific Business Councils, the ICFA represents the interests of key stakeholders at the national level and through its international platforms and partnerships.
The forum will have 40 members — comprised of 25 from the industry and 15 from research and policy-making. It will serve as a national platform for the seed industry and stakeholders for sustainability and quality seed production for expanding the seed trade and exports. The forum will work on seed production stewardship programmes, traceability, GAP certification, policy advocacy and trade issues, value chain development, exports facilitation and global market access support systems.
India’s robust seed industry comprises about 400 big and small companies, and is driven by R&D and innovation. It is undergoing wide-ranging transformation with the entry of MNCs, joint ventures of Indian companies with multinational seed companies and consolidations. It is poised to tap the massive export market. In order to promote production stewardship, it is essential to stimulate sustainable national and international collaborations, alliances and networks across all stakeholders engaged in the seed sector.
Global agriculture today is faced with the onerous task of meeting the growing demand for food. The huge target has to be achieved in the context of climate change and declining resources of agricultural land and water, while withstanding the societal and environmental pressures. The onus will fall on seeds, the most critical input for agricultural (crop) production. The global seed industry will collectively have to take the responsibility for meeting this objective in a sustainable manner.
ASEAN countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar present a ready market for Indian seed exports. Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are other three important seed markets. Africa is opening up in a big way for Indian seed exports. The India Seed Forum will work towards enabling India to become the leading seed exporter for Asian and African markets, and shall steadily expand its reach globally.
There is a requirement for the consideration of the seed as a sector, not divide it between the public and the private sector. Priority should be given to access to seeds, and the choice needs to be left to the farmers. The issue of the risk and uncertainties due to competition between different stakeholders such as the public sector, private sector and informal sector is significant. It is essential to address this so that the risk and uncertainties are not transferred to the farmers. The seed sector is expanding in terms of monetary values but not in a sustainable way. There is an increasing role of seed traders with very poor governance compliance. There are issues related to the adoption of GM crops, sustainable production of high-quality seeds, harmonisation of seed standards and adoption and certification of Good Agricultural Practices.
For Indian growers, there is the increasing labour cost and manpower shortage, limited usable plants from sown seeds, disease-pest issue at seedling stages, difficulty of sowing to maintain seed rate and uneven germination resulting in poor-quality harvest.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the goal of doubling farmers’ income will be achieved by 2022 — the 75th anniversary of Independence. A targeted focus on seed production and export can help India fulfil this dream. The PM’s call to double agri exports can be realised if India is able to tap its full potential to spur the farm prosperity of Asian and African nations. With adequate policy support, the Indian seed industry can be in a position to drive the growth of agriculture at the rate of over 4 per cent, besides helping many Asian and African countries transform their crop production landscape.
The removal of trade barriers, the enhancement and development of new seed enterprises, quality management to meet export requirements and acceptance of emerging technology are a necessity for enhancing the seed trade. Regional harmonisation in the variety release system, the certification/accreditation system, plant variety protection and phyto-sanitary measures can facilitate trade.
In addition, the storage capacity is important for an efficient seed trade. For climate-smart breeding, India is not on board with gene editing as the government’s stand on it is not known. With the use of mechanisation and digital tools, the youth can be engaged by reducing the farming drudgery. The farmers need to be made aware of the benefits to reduce the gap in the seed replacement rate.
Seed crop insurance for the small farmers is crucial in this regard. India’s seed market is worth about $6 billion, but the exports are hardly worth about $100 million. Steps need to be taken to increase the exports. There is a lack of standards for the seeds and seedlings, accreditation and notification. When it comes to organic farming, there is no minimum seed certification system or standards for organic products. Laboratories or agencies can be built to conduct tests and set a standard so that it does not have any adverse effect. Molecular tools can be introduced to improve the quality of the seeds.
Our nation accounts for nearly half of the vegetable seed and 70 per cent of the field crops’ seed requirements of the Asian countries, besides that of African nations. There is immense potential for growth. A vibrant, modern and competitive seed industry is essential to improve agricultural productivity. Quality seeds are critical to enabling farmers to boost crop productivity, increase income and reduce poverty.
India has the capacity to support large-scale hybrid seed production at a cheaper cost compared with other countries. With its diverse agro-climatic zones, skilled human resources and enterprise, India offers an opportunity for diverse seed production for export. Besides fruit and vegetable seeds, which are already a high-growth industry, seeds of hybrid corn, paddy, pearl millet and cotton have promising export prospects in Asian and African countries.
India has been ranked among the top five seed economies of the world for some time. India has been a strong partner in developing seed businesses in neighbouring countries and assisting the growth of their seed sector.
The global seed market, valued at $66 billion in 2018, is projected to reach $100 billion in the next five years. With a domestic seed market size of about Rs 15,000 crore, India can become a global supplier of hybrid seeds, especially the seeds of vegetables, field crops and flowers. Its seed exports can grow 10 times in the next five years from the current level of $100 million. The challenge is that the industry faces several issues, from policies and technologies to trade. These issues need redressal on priority so that India is able to unlock its full potential to partner in the farm prosperity of the Asian and African nations.
India is one of the world leaders in hybrid seed production. It has the capacity to support large-scale hybrid seed production at a cheaper cost compared with other countries. With its diverse agro-climatic zones, skilled human resources and enterprise, India offers opportunity for diverse seed production for export, especially that of high-value pollinated vegetables, field crops and flower seeds. Besides fruit and vegetable seeds which are already a high growth Industry, seeds of hybrid corn, paddy, pearl millet and cotton have promising exports prospects in Asian and African countries.
The Indian seed industry today is undergoing large-scale transformation and is well poised to tap the huge export market. In order to promote production stewardship, it is essential to stimulate sustainable national and international collaborations, alliances and networks across all the stakeholders engaged in seed sector towards robust growth, so that India can become a major global supplier of seeds.
It is globally acknowledged that India enjoys geographical centrality, genetic strengths and vastly diverse agro-climatic conditions supporting the cultivation of a wide range of agronomic and horticultural crops. These conditions and the rich biodiversity offer excellent opportunities for India to become a leading seed exporter for Asian and African markets, to begin with.
The author is Chairman, Indian Chamber of Food and Agriculture
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