Seed Bill: Analysis and suggestions by CSA

SEED BILL 2010 an analytical view

Central Government is trying to bring in a new seed bill replacing the existing Seed Act 1966 and Seed Control Order 1983  The first draft was released in 2004 and after the suggestions from various groups and parliamentary standing committee were taken into account a new draft was released in 2010.

Earlier Minister for Agriculture Raghuveera Reddy led a deligation to meet Sharad Pawar and Manmohan singh

While the centre has agreed on several suggestions but now it got stuck at a point of ‘State having powers to regulate prices and royalties over seeds’  Sharad Pawar is adamant and not agreeing on that.

Please find enclosed our analysis and suggestions

Small seed firms want mandatory allocation of crop technology

K. V. Kurmanath

Hyderabad, Jan. 30:

The Seed Bill might have been put on the backburner; but small and medium seed companies feel that it is only a temporary respite. They feel that the Bill, when passed by the Lok Sabha, could adversely impact their business prospects.

In a detailed note on the Bill to be circulated among its members, they said that “new technologies are coming up in large numbers with patent protection. This is fraught with danger as patentees are out to exploit their patents to the hilt, charging huge royalties on seed technologies”. This segment plays an important role in the Rs 8,000-crore seed industry, catering to local needs. Hybrid seeds, including GM hybrids, dominate the scene with a 75-80 per cent market share . They act as big source of seeds for bigger seed companies. Though there are about 300 seed firms in the market, only around 15 of those are large .

“Poor farmers cannot afford these huge fees. The Seed Bill is not giving any hope in this regard,” a representative of Seedsmen Association of Andhra Pradesh said.

The association has called for reserving a certain percentage of the newly developed crop technologies by private seed companies to the small and medium seed companies. It has cited the examples of compulsory sourcing clauses the Government has put in place to protect the interests of the small-scale industry and handloom sector.

“If you do not bring in such reservation, there is every possibility of small and medium seed firms going into the hands of multinational companies. The new Seed Bill will serve only the large and MNC seed companies because they have the wherewithal to conduct research and development and invest heavily in human resources and expansion,” the seed industry representative said.

Seed liability bill needed on the lines of N-liablity

“Seed liability bill needed on the lines of n-liablity”
Chairman of parliament’s standing committee on agriculture Basudeb Acharya in an interview

The seed bil 2010 discussed in parliament on August 4 has several lacunae and will not serve farmers interest, says CPI(M) lok sabha MP and chairman of parliamentary standing committee on agriculture Basudeb Acharya. Acharya wants a seed liability bill along the lines of nuclear liability bill which will fix responsibility on the companies promoting genetically modified seeds in case of any setback.

The committee under the CPM leader has been drafting a report on GM food. In an exclusive interview to Trithesh Nandan, he says GM crops are not the panacea for India’s agriculture problem.

Edited excerpts:

What is the status of the report on genetically modified (GM) foods? When is the committee submitting the report?

We have already started drafting of the report. A new committee will come in existence from September 1, so we want to submit report by the end of this month.

Any hint on the report’s findings?

We can’t say anything right now because first it has to be submitted to the parliament. We want to present an objective view on it. Having said that we are taking into consideration all the contentious issues related to GM food crops in the forthcoming report. The scientific community is divided on this issue. We had invited those who wanted to appear before the committee. It received more than 5,000 memoranda on the subject from across the country. There were 25 discussions held on the issue in five states in the last one year as part of the consultation done by the standing committee on agriculture. We are going through health and environment aspect from growing GM crops.

What is your take on GM crops?

GM crops are not the panacea for India’s agriculture problem. GM technology food does not increases production but decreases the loss. There is a serious concern on the socioeconomic impacts of GM crops. One cannot label destructive farming as progressive science and force it down the throat of millions. On the one hand, we have seen how these GM crops are leading to monopoly of the companies like Monsanto in the seed sector on the other hand such technologies like herbicide tolerant GM crops will destroy the rural livelihoods dependent on agriculture.

Where is the government going wrong in controlling inflation?

It is because of government’s policies that there is high inflation in the country. First, we have been demanding futures trade be withdrawn but government is still continuing with it. Second, the amendment to essential commodities act which was amended and made flexible in 2002. The government is not doing anything on the issue. Third, the way the food security bill has been drafted, it will not be able to control prices. By dividing the population on priority and non-priority like below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL), majority of the population will be kept out of subsidised food grains. The government argument on procurement is that in order to cover 80 percent of the population – they need 75 lakh tons of food grains but maximum capacity of procurement is 55 lakh tones. But they can procure more because in Andhra Pradesh I have seen Food Corporation of India (FCI) is not procuring. Throughout the country FCI should undertake procurement of food grains – rice and wheat. Our production is more than what we procure. FCI can procure up to 80 lakh tones of food grains and if they procure then there would be no problem as 80 percent of the population would be covered.

How doe we tackle the problem of storage?

This has been the huge problem for the country. The capacity of the storage has not been increased in the last 15 years. Now the government is thinking of hiring private godowns and depots. The government is not sincere in increasing storage as the issue has been on discussion for the last three years. But in the last three years, government should have increased the storage capacity by thirty percent. Had it been done there would have no problem in keeping food grains in store.

Then the whole growth story could go wrong, as the government seems to be focusing more on market-driven growth ignoring the basic necessities of the population and agriculture?

There is no connection between growth and poverty. One third of the population still goes hungry means they just get one time food. The GDP led growth has no connection with the poverty. The increase of production in certain sector has no connection daily consumption of the people. So it has no impact on the production on commodities required by the common man. So why, when GDP grow, it has no impact on poor population.

The government has neglected the agriculture sector for long. There is hardly any growth happening in the sector in the last several years. As chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture what would you want to improve?

First thing which should be done is land reform because substantial percentage of population do not have agriculture land. What is required is land reforms in order to increase the production in agriculture. In our country, forty percent of land is irrigated and 60 percent of land is still in rain fed areas. There is need for the extension of the irrigation system as the enough investment is not been done. Third thing is capital investment in agriculture, which has declined over the years. This has been done very cleverly. There is increase of price of fertilisers and government has been reducing subsidy in fertilisers. We are importing fifty percent of fertilisers whereas our fertilisers production units are closed. At least eight of such public sector units have been closed in last few years. Also provide better quality seeds to the farmers. We are demanding seed liability bill to provide better seeds to farmers along the lines of the nuclear liability bill. In this session of parliament we have discussed seed bill. But this will not cater to the need of farmers. There is provision of compensation if there is no germination but it is not sufficient. So there is need for seed liability. The companies which supply seeds should be made liable. Today there is no loss for such so farmers suffer. If there is no germination, farmers’ income for the whole year will go down.

Also, if we look at role of banks, they are equally responsible for not lending to farmers. Over the years, the bank loans to the agriculture sector has been dropping.

Among the seventy percent of agriculture loans go to the big companies like Reliance, which is also selling agriculture produce. Rest of the loans go to small and marginal farmers. It happens at that time when 82 percent of farmers are small and marginal. They have to depend on private money lending. In 2008 budget, Rs. 60000 crore of farmer loans was waived. At that time there was there was demand to waive the loans given by the private money lenders. This comes around 49 percent. A committee was also constituted three years back but the committee has not yet come to conclusion on waiving of private money loans. The small and marginal farmers are not getting from the banks what they should have got. In 2010-11, the agriculture credit was three lakh twenty thousand crore but how much the small and marginal farmers got, this figure you wouldn’t get from banks.

What’s your take on the current land acquisition bill?

Fertile land where there is cultivation of multiple crops should not be acquired. Agricultural land should not be used for non-agricultural purposes. Even if in the most exigent conditions, agricultural land should be diverted very sparingly as the land under agriculture is gradually shrinking for various reasons. So, there is a need for legislation to prevent land conversion. And, if it is done, only then it can be prevented. I have not gone through the land acquisition bill. We need land for industrialisation, irrigation projects, thermal and hydel power plants, and infrastructure. But we have to choose between agriculture and non-agriculture land.

Seed Bill: The proposed legislation can sprout trouble

Activists have demanded a Seed Liability Bill, along the lines of the Nuclear Liability Bill, reports Bhavdeep Kang

Union Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s made a last-ditch effort to win support for his controversial Seed Bill, 2010 by calling an all-party meeting in Parliament earlier this week. He was candid about the fact that this legislation tops his “must do” list. But the Opposition — supported by a section of the Congress—weren’t having any of it.

“The proposed bill is not only anti-farmer but also brazenly favours multinationals in the garb of higher productivity. Any attempt to pass the bill in its present form will irrevocably damage Indian agriculture” Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had told Pawar. Members of Parliament from across the board had endorsed his stand, saying seed was the most critical and basic input for agriculture. They cautioned the Government against undermining India’s “seed security”.

As the MPs wrangled inside Parliament on Wednesday August 3, farmers’ organisations staged a protest outside. They gave five good reasons for opposing the Bill, which is intended to regulate the 1.5 billion dollar commercial seed sector in the country, but is riddled with holes:

 No seed price control mechanism

• Token liability in case of spurious or sub-standard seeds

• No adequate protection against bio-piracy of farmers’ varieties; threatens India’s bio-diversity

• Loophole allowing registration of transgenic seeds; provision for re-registration may lead to monopolies

• No adequate phytosanitary curbs on seed imports

The first and most obvious lacuna is the lack of a price control mechanism. Seed companies are free to charge whatever they deem fit. Tomato seeds, for instance, cost anything from Rs 475 to Rs 75,000 per kg. Unlike farmers’ varieties, commercial hybrid seeds cannot be saved; they do not breed true and must be purchased every season.

When seed prices go up, the farmers’ input costs naturally increase and he passes the burden on to the consumer. In an already inflationary scenario, the Seed legislation will push up food prices. A proposal has been made for including seeds in the Essential Commodities Act, so that states can regulate seed price, but Pawar has yet to respond.

If these expensive commercial seeds fail, the farmer stands to lose his entire crop. If, as is very often the case, he is a tenant or his land is mortgaged or he is deep in debt, he may lose his livelihood as well. When this happens on a large scale (as in Bihar with Monsanto’s ‘Kargil 900 M’ maize crop cultivated over 1.4 lakh hectares), food production suffers, necessitating imports. The country’s food self-sufficiency is undermined.

Activists have demanded a Seed Liability Bill, along the lines of the Nuclear Liability Bill, to ensure exemplary damages and criminal as well as civil liability for spurious/sub-standard seeds which fail to germinate or grow properly. Last year, it was the Bihar government which had to step in and pay Rs 61 crore in compensation to farmers when yet another maize crop, produced form private hybrid seeds, failed.

The third lacuna has to do with controlling theft, pure and simple. Monsanto has been accused of basing many of its products on traditional varieties of seeds (after tweaking them in the laboratory). As the term “farmers’” varieties implies, these varieties have been developed over generations by practicing farmers, who selected and bred them for high yields and disease, pest and drought resistance.

Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi, a Varanasi-based farmer and plant breeder who won a Presidential award for developing high-yielding cultivars of wheat, paddy, pulses and vegetables, says, “Wherever I have distributed my ‘Kudrat’ seeds, Monsanto’s sales have suffered. It is my fear that they will now adopt my varieties as their own. So I have decided to get them registered, but this does not offer much protection”.

Nor does the Bill recognise the threat to India’s bio-diversity. The thousands of desi or indigenous varieties of seeds are disappearing under the assault of commercial hybrids, as farmers are beguiled into adopting “new improved” seeds in place of their own. In most Indian households desi cereals and pulses are preferred over hybrid varieties, apparently because of superior taste and flavour. But these are already getting hard to access.

The fourth caveat has to do with the registration mechanism. Farmers say that to prevent bio-piracy, the parental lines of the variety from which the seed is derived should be minutely detailed before granting registration. The Bill is not clear whether registration is exclusive, or whether two people can register the same variety. It allows registration of seeds for an initial ten years, extendable to 20. If, as is likely, the registration is exclusive, it amounts to a virtual monopoly.

The Bill also allows registration of transgenic seeds, although existing legislation forbids commercialisation of genetically modified plant materials without trials. There are fears that this may constitute a kind of backdoor entry. Even farmers see this as Monsanto’s input in the Bill – in a cheeky comment on the relentless promotion GM seeds by US multinationals, a popular brand of Bt Cotton seeds in MP has been dubbed “Obama”.

The fifth problem with the Bill is that it allows import of seeds without adequate safeguards. Weeds and diseases enter India through these seeds and then simply cannot be eradicated. The ubiquitous Videshi Babool and Congress grass which have colonised India are cases in point.

Nitish Kumar’s other crib – and this is supported by some of his fellow chief ministers – is that since agriculture is a state subject, state governments should have a say in choosing seeds and fixing royalties.

Currently, the commercial seed market has only a one-quarter share in the total seeds planted in the country, but this is growing by over 12 per cent annually. The steady inroads of big seed companies into Indian agriculture have raised red flags among green lobbies, underscoring the need for protection of farmers’ and consumers’ interests. This the Seed Bill fails to do.

Bhavdeep Kang is an independent journalist writing on agriculture and food policy