|Keywords:||India; Small-scale farming; Hybridization; Sustainable agriculture; Intellectual property rights; Seed.|
|Correct citation:||Pandey, B. (1994), "Hybrid Seed Controversy in India." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 19, p. 9-11.|
Among developing countries, India occupies a prominent place with respect to the development of hybrid seeds. While the initial impetus for introducing hybrids came exclusively from the government, the last years are characterized by an increasing involvement of the private sector. India's emphasis on hybrids is not without criticism, however. Some farmers are refusing the new seeds, and are developing their own alternatives.
The promotion of hybrids
In order to meet the growing food demand, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation (USA), started in 1957 the All India Coordinated Crop Improvement Project, which marked the beginning of an intensive research programme for crop improvement in India. Under this project, the performance in yield potential, disease and pest resistance, and nutritional value of the newly developed varieties (including hybrids) was evaluated.
In 1961, the first maize hybrid was released for general cultivation, followed by hybrid varieties of sorghum, pearl millet, and nonhybrid high yielding varieties (HYVs) of rice and wheat. In 1971, the development of the first hybrid cotton was a landmark in the history of crop improvement in the country.
The state governments, however, were incapable of keeping pace with the growing seed demand. Therefore, to facilitate efficient production and distribution of seed, the Indian government established a central production organization in 1963, the National Seed Corporation (NSC), and in 1969 the State Farm Corporation of India (SFCI). With the technical help from the Rockefeller Foundation, the NSC's first products were single crosses of hybrid maize. Later it began to produce seeds of cereals and cotton on a commercial scale.
With assistance of the World Bank, the Indian government established in 1967 the National Seeds Programme (NSP) to coordinate the efforts of the NSC, SFCI and private companies. Another aim of the NSP was to create new, and modify the existing infrastructural facilities for seed testing, research and certification.
During the 1960s, many small enterprises entered the seed sector, but
they mainly confined themselves to the production of some vegetable and
ornamental flower seeds. During this period, governmental policies limited
the role of private sector. In the 1980s, however, governmental policy
towards the private seed industry gradually changed. Private companies
were allowed to obtain breeder seeds directly from public research institutions,
while the New Policy on Seed Development (1988) heralded a new era
(see also Monitor no. 17). Indeed, this new policy
stimulated the growth of the number of private companies. Currently, about
500 seed companies have entered the Indian market. Immediately after the
introduction of the new policy, almost 133 companies applied for import
of seeds of cereals, pulses and oilseeds.
The first hybrid rice has been developed by Chinese researchers and
was released to farmers in 1976. In 1991, China's area under hybrid rice
reached 17.6 million hectares (55 per cent of China's total rice area)
and contributed to 66 per cent of the country's total rice production.
The most significant impact of the new seed policy was an increase in collaboration agreements between domestic and foreign companies, aiming at the import of technology and parental material. Thus far, 19 seed companies have entered collaboration agreements (see table). For example, Proagro Seed Company of Delhi has set up a joint venture with Plant Genetic Systems (PGS), Belgium. The aim of this joint venture is to develop, produce and market hybrid oilseed rape and hybrid vegetable seeds for the Asian market.
Most of the private companies direct their research activities specifically to hybrid pearl millet and cotton, followed by sunflower seeds. The companies have developed almost 122 HYVs of different crops, which account for around 70 per cent of the hybrids currently available on the local market.
|India's research on hybrids
The exploitation of hybrid vigour in a number of crops has given a major thrust to India's agricultural production. This box provides some examples in different fields.
Tata Energy Research Institute (1993), Annual Report 199293. New Delhi: TERI.
T. S. Kalda et al. (1994), Hybrid Seed Production and its Cultivation Technology. New Delhi: IARI, Division of Vegetable Crops.
Farmer' movements against hybrids
Although the Indian government has promoted the use of hybrids and other HYVs to achieve higher agricultural output and the acreage under hybrids is increasing every year, not all farmers have accepted the new seeds. The opposition is not to the hybrid seeds as such but to the adverse impact they could have in terms of loss of biodiversity and loss of ability of seed saving, which forces farmers to buy new seed every year.
One of the most important opponents to the adoption of hybrids is the nongovernmental organization Navdanya. Initiated in 1991 by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, northern India, the organization is a network of in situ diversity conservation programmes based on people's participation, aiming at preventing erosion of biodiversity and monitoring the social and ecological impact of monocultures in agriculture and forestry.
The Navdanya network has collected and distributed local varieties of cereals, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables. The organization is also developing a network to support other centres working on conservation of indigenous genetic resources, such as Navdashanam, Bangalore, south India, Annapurnain Aurovilla, south eastern India, and the Centre for Tropical Ecosystems, Sirsi, northern India.
The Navdanya programme is also establishing links with people's conservation movements such as the Chipko movement in northern India and the Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangh (KRRS) in southern India. In Garhwal Himalaya, north India, the Chipko movement has played a critical role in reversing deforestation due to logging. Chipko activists are now extending their conservation activities into the domain of seeds and farm biodiversity through Bija Bachao Abhiyan (Save the Seed Campaign).
In southern India, KRRS has started a campaign directed to the farmersÕ rights to conserve, improve and use their own traditional varieties without restrictions imposed by corporations in the form of patents or plant breeders' rights. As a part of its campaign, KRRS has decided to establish its own seed research centre in Karnataka, southern India. It aims at the free exchange of seed between Indian farmers and farmers of other developing countries. Among KRRS' partner organizations that are already supporting the establishment of farmers' managed seed conservation and seed supply activities are the Laxmi Mukti and the Shetkari Mahila Agadi, the women's wings of peasant organizations working primarily with farmers in Rajasthan.
KRRS has expressed the view that farmers are becoming increasingly dependent on the private agro industry. More and more aspects of farming, from seed supply to the processing and marketing of the harvest, are controlled by companies in the agribusiness. This dependency might have adverse effects, given the fact that the private sector is largely controlled by the narrow profit motives. KRRS has published a case where a private seed firm, faced with a glut of hybrid tomato seeds, held back its seed supply for a week during the sowing season, depriving the farmers of their supplies. It then sold the seeds at almost twice the price to the farmers.
According to the KRRS, in some cases the performance of the seeds of private seed companies were not as good as they were expected to be. Hybrid sunflower seeds developed by a particular company produced less than half the expected harvest in southern India. Similar experiences with tomato seeds from northern India have been reported.
Another potential consequence of the private sectors' control over the seed production is that food production will be replaced by production for luxurious consumer markets and for export. To illustrate, in Andhra Pradesh, southern India, a part of the rice fields have been replaced by sunflower farms, and some of the potato and bean cultivation in Himachal Pradesh, northern India is being replaced by soya bean cultivation for the benefits of the oil industry. This is in contrast with the governmental policy, which has been aiming at developing seeds to meet the goal of selfsufficiency in foodgrains.
|Foreign collaboration in hybrid
seed industry in India since 1988: Some examples.
Source: Papers presented at the National Conference on Seeds, February 1993, by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, and the Department of Agriculture, Government of U.P.. Indian Investment Centre (1993), Monthly Newsletter, various issues.
Back to traditional seeds
The rejection of hybrids by some farmers has also taken another form: the use of traditional seeds combined with the adoption of organic farming. These farmers have tried to show that traditional seeds can give similar yields as improved varieties. Narayan Reddy, a farmer near Bangalore, southern India, is returning to organic farming. After having bad experiences with hybrid seeds, he left his land fallow for a while and then started cultivating traditional varieties. Today he is rated to be a successful organic farmer and gaining high net profits. He raises his own compost with crop residues and animal dung and uses green manure. Due to adequate micro level earth worm activity, tillage has been decreased to a bare minimum, while pests have been controlled by the use of soap water, herbal extracts and diluted cow urine.
In a similar vein, Friends Rural Centre, Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, has been engaged in organic farming for more than ten years now. Some farmers of the Chandonangali Village, Bijnore district, Uttar Pradesh, and the Kerala's Palghat district, southern India, have also had considerable success with the cultivation of traditional varieties.
The hybrid seed industry in India is poised for a quantum jump as is illustrated by the surge in private sector participation in recent years. Current research activities indicate that the spread of these hybrid seeds would increase in the near future. These developments have to contend with the fact that some Indian farmers have not only refused the seeds, but have also organized themselves to try to prevent a further spread of the new seeds. Although the strength of the antihybrid movements in India is unclear, for the first time in India farmers have organized themselves to prevent the spread of hybrid, e.a. 'proprietary' seeds. This reaction of the farmers might become a problem for the policy of promoting hybrids for achieving higher agricultural growth in the country.
Beena Pandey (RIS)
A. Groosman, A. Linnemann and H. Wierma (1988), The International Dimension of Seed Industry Development: Draft final report of the project. Tilburg: Paper prepared for the seminar on "Technology Development and Changing Seed Supply Systems".
Seed Association of India Newsletter, JanuaryApril 1993.
G. Singh, S.R. Asokan and V.N. Asopa (1990), Seed Industry in India: A management perspective. Ahmedabad: Indian Institute of Management.
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