Hybrid seed racket

The growing menace
Last Updated : 07 July 2010, 17:12 IST
Last Updated : 07 July 2010, 17:12 IST

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A few weeks back I was travelling in the Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh. 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 the 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 (you need two parent lines to develop a hybrid) was common. I wonder how can 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.

In the absence of any price regulation, farmers end up paying a hefty price for the hybrid seeds, and often end up being fleeced. The price variation is so wide that one does not know why the state governments refuse to put a stop to what is nothing but cheating.
Take for instance the prices of vegetable hybrids. Prices of tomato hybrid seeds vary between Rs 475 and Rs 76,000 a kg; cabbage seeds are priced between Rs 5,840 and Rs 22,260; and capsicum between Rs 3,670 and Rs 65,200. The hybrid seeds of cotton and rice too are prohibitively expensive compared to the improved varieties in the market.

What if the hybrid seed fails, does the farmer get any compensation? The answer is no. In Andhra Pradesh, in 2005, after large scale failure of genetically modified Bt cotton seeds in Warangal district, the state government asked Mahyco-Monsanto to pay compensation. The company refused to do so and instead moved the high court saying that the government was trying to harass them. The case is still pending before the court. This is not an isolated incident. In several states, farmers have failed to get adequate compensation for crop failures resulting from spurious hybrid seeds.


The menace of multiple brands of hybrid seeds has now spread to the northern parts of the country. In Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab, hybrid seeds have flooded the market, mostly coming from Andhra Pradesh. Whether it is vegetable (which in any case is dominated by hybrids, with many state governments providing subsidy on its cultivation), cotton or rice, what is being increasingly available in the market are only hybrid seeds.

In UP, 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 has undertaken any such research project. So, where has the Rs 53 crore 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.

A UP government report 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 then disappear probably to appear again with a new brand name.

Not even one seed sample was drawn and sent for testing in any of the laboratories in UP. Karnataka is no different.

That makes me wonder whether the kind of intense deliberations and engagement over the proposed Seed Bill, 2010, will make any practical difference to the existing market realities? Senior officials admit they have failed to check the quality of hybrid seeds flooding the market. Nor is the proposed Seed Bill doing enough to put an end to the menace of spurious seeds.

What is therefore urgently needed is to make two important changes in the Seed Bill. First, there is a dire need to regulate seed prices. It cannot be left to the seed companies alone. Secondly, a strict penalty clause with heavy penalties (and prison terms) needs to be brought in the proposed bill. At present, it provides for a maximum of Rs 1 lakh as penalty with/or a prison term of six months.

This should be enhanced to a minimum of Rs 10 lakh with five year imprisonment. Unless some of the seed manufacturers are hauled up and given exemplary punishment, seeds will remain a flourishing business for all kinds of operators. Farmers will continue to suffer silently.

Published 07 July 2010, 17:11 IST

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