A few weeks back I was travelling in the Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Nimad derives its name from the neem tree. As the region's name suggests, neem is the dominant tree in this area. What however strikes you is multiplicity of Bt cotton posters that adorns every wall, standing tree, buses etc. You see them everywhere.
I counted some 20 different brands of Bt cotton seed posters and banners. To name a few: Super Mallika, Atal, Jai Bt, Ankur 3028, Ganesh, Gabbar, Mallika Gold, Superman, Jaadu Bt cotton, and Obama. I wonder how the farmer makes the right kind of choice, of which seed brand to pick up. How many of them end up being duped, your guess is as good as mine.
Hybrid seed is a lucrative market. There was a time when close to 2,000 brands of hybrid seeds of cotton were being sold in Andhra Pradesh. Interestingly, at least one of the parents in most of these hybrids was common. I wonder how could so many different kinds of hybrids (and all with higher productivity) could be developed with one parent being common. In other words, most of these popular brands were nothing but duplicates being sold under different names.
So if there was a brand of hybrid cotton seed named Laxmi someone brought another brand called Super Laxmi. I admire farmer's sixth sense (if any) in selecting the more genuine ones from hundred of brands flooding the market.
The menace of multiple brands of hybrid seeds has now spread to the northern parts of the country. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab are now faced with this problem. In all these States, hybrid seeds have flooded the market, mostly from Andhra Pradesh. Whether it is vegetable (which in any case is dominated by hybrids, with the UP, Haryana and Punjab governments providing subsidy on its cultivation), cotton or rice, what is being increasingly available in the market are only hybrid seeds.
In UP, a Lucknow datelined report in Dainik Jagran says the four main agricultural universities were provided with Rs 53 crore from the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna to develop locally adaptable hybrid seeds. But none of these universities have undertaken any such research project. So where has the Rs 53-crore (or Rs 530 million) allocated for the purpose disappeared, please don't ask me. The average market price for hybrid seed that is available is Rs 200 per kg. Farmers have little choice but to go by the recommendation of the shop keepers.
Quoting a State government report, the newspaper says that between 2006 and 2009, 40 private seed companies had made available 102 different kinds/brands of hybrid seeds to the agricultural universities for evaluation. Only 14 of these were made available for research in the second year of cultivation (since hybrids lose their hybrid vigour in the 2nd generation). It means that the hybrid seed sector is dominated by fly-by-night operators who make money from one year's sale, and than disappear probably to appear again with a new brand.
Not even one seed sample was drawn and sent for testing in any of the laboratories in UP.
That makes me wonder whether the kind of intense deliberations and engagement that a few of us (and that includes farmer organisations and NGOs) are involved in over the proposed Seed Bill will make any practical difference to the existing market realities? Is the Ministry of Agriculture even aware of the hanky-panky that goes unchecked in the name of improved seeds? And even if they are aware, do they care?
What is therefore urgently needed is a strict penalty clause with heavy penalties (and prison terms) in the proposed Seed Bill. Unless some of the seed manufacturers are hauled up and given exemplary punishment, seed will remain a flourishing business for all kinds of operators.
Well, knowing what the Prime Minister said: "Bhopal's will happen, but the country has to progress," and that sends a message down the line. You should be prepared not to expect any meaningful change. After all, the more the seed packets are sold, the more it adds to the GDP calculations. Who cares for the aam kisan?