Hybrid Seed Controversy in India
Beena Pandey
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.
Hybrid rice 

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. 
Because the Chinese hybrids and CMS lines are not suitable for tropical regions, the Chinese hybrids have been adapted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and national research institutes in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The hybrids derived from them have shown a 15 per cent yield advantage compared to rice OPVs, multiple disease and insect resistance and acceptable grain quality. 
IRRI reports that, in 1987, net return for hybrid rice cultivation in China was US$ 444 per hectare compared with US$ 322 for conventional rice cultivation. Countries with a high labour­land ratio and a high proportion of irrigated area, such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, are likely to have the greatest potential demand for hybrid rice technology. Agronomic management of hybrids appears to be very important for maximizing the hybrid's yield potential. 
A few years ago it was reported that the Chinese government had exclusively licensed its hybrid rice technology to Cargill Seeds and Ring Around Products Inc (Occidental Petroleum). According to Sant Virmani, Deputy Head of the Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biochemistry Division at IRRI, the licensing agreements had stopped the exchange of hybrid rice breeding materials between China and IRRI, but did not drastically reduce the exchange of information. Chinese literature on hybrid rice has been circulated fairly well outside China, and Chinese scientists have been communicating with rice scientists in various international forums which kept the information flowing. The licensing contracts were terminated in 1992. The companies could not commercialize Chinese rice hybrids outside China either because of their poor adaptability in the tropics and/or because of their poor grain quality. 
Jeroen van Wijk

Foreign involvement
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.

Nearly 20­25 hybrid rice varieties have been chosen for commercial trial after an evaluation of 350 experimental hybrids, which were researched at 12 research centres in the country during the last three years. These hybrid varieties are based on the parental paddy lines (breeding material) which are well adopted to tropical conditions. It is expected that in the summer of 1994 200 tonnes of hybrid rice seeds will be produced to cover around 10 thousand ha under hybrid rice. 
Since the 1980s, several research projects on hybrid rice have been conducted:

  • In 1989, Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) started to sponsor the hybrid rice research project. This was later strengthened with the availability of financial and technical support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This summer, several hybrids will be released for cultivation. The parent lines are supplied freely to all the interested private and public sector seed agencies, along with the needed technical guidance. The aim is to progressively expand the Indian area under hybrid rice from 10 thousand hectare in 1994 to 2 million hectare in the year 2000. The corresponding increase in seed requirement would rise from 200 tonnes to 40 thousand tonnes.
  • Using several new cytoplasmic male sterile lines, including two from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and two male sterile lines from Punjab, scientists evolved and evaluated over 400 hybrid combinations in trials during the period 1989­93.
  • At the Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation (SPIC) Foundation, Madras (southern India), cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) and its use for developing hybrid rice varieties was researched. The research was directed at the rearrangement of specific DNA sequences in the mitochondrial genomes of the rice CMS lines IR 62829 A, its maintainer, and the restorer line IR 9761­19IR and a single cross hybrid (AxR). The mitochondrial genome is responsible for the maternal inheritance.
  • In a project at the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack (south eastern India), research was directed towards wide hybridization, with special reference to diversification of cytoplasm and use of alien genes for resistance to biotic stresses. Thus far, thirteen wide­cross hybrids have been produced through embryo rescue. 
  • The world's first Basmati rice hybrid, developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), will be available within three to four years.

The productivity of mustard, India's most important oil crop, is constrained by a several factors. These include the attack by the two fungal diseases white rust and alternaria blight, and severe infestation by aphids, a sap­sucking insect. Although during the last three decades research on developing disease­free varieties has been conducted, only limited success has been achieved in the case of white rust. No sources of resistance to alternaria blight has been found in cultivated mustard. 
However, genes conferring resistance to both these fungal diseases are available in wild plants closely related to mustard. In nature, these plants occur as weeds. The National Resource Centre for Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) of the IARI is maintaining about seventy of such wild mustard relatives, collected from different parts of the world. Unfortunately, due to sexual incompatibility, the transfer of disease resistance from these wild relatives to the cultivars through sexual hybridization is not possible. 
In this case, biotechnology may offer a solution. Instead of sexual hybridization, somatic hybridization have been tried. This technique involves the isolation of protoplasts from the parents, after which they are fused to obtain somatic hybrids.
A number of somatic hybrids, involving wild relatives and cultivated mustard, produced at the NRCPB are being researched to obtain disease­free mustard cultivars. 
Research for increasing productivity in oilseeds has borne fruit in the case of mustard. A recent success was the identification of a Brassica juncea strain BIO­902, originated from a tissue culture induced variability (somaclone). This strain will be used for cultivation in the central Indian states of Gujarat, parts of Rajasthan and in Madhya Pradesh. Worldwide, this is the first time a somaclone in a food crop has successfully competed with the best national varieties.
Several Indian research institutes are working on the development of new sources for CMS in mustard. In a project at the University of Delhi on wide hybridization and use of pollen as a system for screening disease resistance in Brassica, backcross progenies have shown great promise to develop new sources of CMS. At the IARI, several somatic Brassica hybrids have been produced through protoplast fusion, while at the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), New Delhi, wide hybrids of Brassica obtained through embryo rescue are being researched. 

The annual vegetable production in India is estimated to be about 45 million tonnes. Hybrid tomato and brinjal are the favourite research subjects. Under auspices of the All India Coordinated Vegetable Improvement Project, research has identified 28 synthetics and F­1 hybrids in eleven vegetable crops, of which 13 were developed by IARI. 
In the case of tomato, the Indian Institute for Horticultural Research (IIHR) released four varieties, while the IARI released the Pusa Hybrid 1. IIHR also released two F­1 hybrids of brinjal Pusa Hybrid 5 and Pusa Hybrid 6. The average yield observed in case of the Pusa Hybrid 5 is over 51 mt/ha, which is 70 per cent higher than the commonly used variety. The Pusa Hybrid 6 has a potential yield of 45 mt/ha, which is 50 per cent higher than the commonly used variety. 
Sachin Chaturvedi (RIS)

Department of Biotechnology (1993), Annual Report 1992­93. India: Ministry of Science and Technology.

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. 
Year Indian company Foreign collaborator Activity Type of collaboration
1988 ITC Agrotech Ltd, Secunderabad Continental Grains, Australia Hybrid seeds Technical 
1988 Bihar Seeds Corporation, Champaran Pacific Seeds, Australia Hybrid sunflower seeds Technical 
1988 Nath Seeds Pvt. Ltd, Aurangabad Dobi Gon & Co., USA Hybrid sunflower seeds Technical 
1990 Bisco Seed Tech., Delhi  Agripro Bio Sciences, USA Hybrid seeds Technical 
1990 Nath Seeds Ltd., Aurangabad Royal Sluis BV, The Netherlands Hybrid vegetable seeds Financial 
1990 Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co. Ltd., Bombay Asgrow Seeds Co, USA Hybrid vegetable seeds Technical 
1990 ECL Agrotech, Calcutta Controco­op, Yugoslavia Hybrid seeds Technical 
1992 Raunaq International, new Delhi University of Agriculture, NOVISAT, Yugoslavia Hybrid seeds Technical/Financial 
1992 Intercorp Inds. Ltd., New delhi Rustica Semences, France Hybrid seeds Technical 
1993 Southern Petro Chemical Industries Corporation, Madras Pioneer Overseas Corporation, USA Hybrid seeds Financial 
1993 Proagro­PGS India (P) Ltd., New Delhi Plant Genetic Systems International NV, Belgium Hybrid oilseed rape and vegetableseeds  Technical/Financial 
1993 Micro Planate Ltd., Bombay Kemira OY, Finland Hybrid and synthetic seeds Technical 
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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