Deepak Chopra and Vandana Shiva Talk Seeds and GMOs

When meta-physician, Deepak Chopra and food champion and ecologist, Vandana Shiva met before a live audience at his Love in Action series atDeepakHomeBase,
they had a good laugh over the Bullshit Award. Yes, that’s right. Monsanto gave a Bullshit Award to Shiva. To Shiva, whom Forbes Magazine called one of the seven most powerful women on earth, that was an unintended compliment. To get the joke, it helps to recognize the value of cow dung (the Indian down-on-the-farm name for bullshit.)

Cow dung is the original recyclable material. It helps fertilize the fields that grow the grass, which the cows, that produce the dung, feed upon. Their grazing helps our dehydrating planet retain moisture in the earth, contributing to global water supplies. Cow dung use cuts down on the excess nitrogen produced by chemical fertilizers, which contribute to climate change. In a pinch cow dung can be burned for fuel (lowering fossil fuel use) or to help build or insulate a home (lowering fuel use and providing low cost shelter.) As an added gift, those grazing cows produce the butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese that people eat as well.

By surveying the versatile ecology of cow dung, even urban dwellers, like me, can see the earthy pragmatism embedded in the Indian worship of cows (and indeed all life) as sacred. That’s why Chopra and Shiva laughed at the would-be insult.

But before anyone rushes in to take for themselves alone the newly perceived value of cow dung, let’s recognize it as just one part of a teaming, living ecology that supports human life by helping to:

    • Feed more people


    • Promote self-sufficiency


    • Create more jobs


    • Harvest more energy


  • Maintain the earth’s climate and ecological balance


Time has tested and proven the value of cow dung, and the natural cycle to which it belongs. Acting in ways that attune with nature’s processes and cycles is not about having the right to label a product “natural.” It is about following nature as the supreme guide to creating and maintaining life. Otherwise, we risk undermining and destroying the baseline conditions for life, the two Indian scientists maintain. (Shiva originally trained as a physicist.) In different ways, they express the utter urgency to make the right choices now.

As opposed to the life proliferating activities of cow dung, GMO seeds are “terminator seeds designed to be sterile, in a deliberate creation of food scarcity for profits,” says Shiva, who has worked with and defended the rights of farmers to store seeds for three decades.

Whether or not GMOs hold up to the Monsanto claim of feeding more people, (a claim that Shiva disputes, countering that 80 percent of food is grown on small farms, rather than mass industrial ones) Monsanto defines success very differently than Shiva does.

Rather than seek to promoting life through promoting food cultivation, Monsanto acts to:

  • Obtain the exclusive intellectual property rights to the earth’s seeds
  • Modify seeds genetically with pesticides and herbicides
  • Build planned obsolescence into traditional crops
  • Sue farmers who maintain the centuries old ecological cycle by collecting seeds from each new crop

In the U.S., where long time industry executives hold powerful positions in key governmental regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA are pursuing pro-GMO policies. But how well have those worked in India? There, Vandana Shiva reports that they have resulted in the suicide of a quarter of a million Indian farmers. When in the aftermath of being forced into industrial agriculture, Indian farmers lost their independence, livelihoods, food, and farms, they committed suicide, she says, by drinking what remained: the chemical pesticides produced by industrial giants.

The technological science so highly prized in our civilization has another side.

“Yes, it has given us important tools,” Chopra acknowledges, before he goes on to enumerate the ugly side of “fragmented science,” such as global warming, ecological destruction, mechanized death, nuclear weapons, GMOs, and pesticides. “Together they are risking our extinction as a species,” he says.

Beyond the specific health impacts Chopra enumerates, including “cancer, hormonal disorders, weight gain, allergies, and propensity to infections,” lies a more pervasive problem. “What is happening in our body is also happening in the body of Mother Earth. Because many of the chemicals and processes were originally developed for military aims, their purpose is destructive.” Using them in life proliferating activities, like food farming, amounts to “declaring war on the land,” Chopra points out.

Vandana Shiva tallies the impacts of technological science on the living systems on which humans depend.

“Pollinators are disappearing. We have a migration of birds, a loss of planetary water, changing weather patterns. We have created a war on life.”

National mission on Seeds likely in 12th plan
Sanjeeb Mukherjee / New Delhi October 19, 2011, 7:17 IST

To ensure easy availability of high-quality certified seeds at reasonable price to farmers, the agriculture ministry’s long-pending proposal for a national mission on seeds is expected to be implemented in the 12th Five Year Plan that starts from April 2012.

The Planning Commission has given “in principle” approval for the mission, which will cost around Rs 3,773.40 crore — and will run for a period of five years.

A final decision will have to be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, a senior agricultural ministry official said on Tuesday.
Officials said work on a national mission on seeds had started a few years ago. “It is likely to be operationalised soon. It will strive to improve private sector participation in the development and distribution of seeds in the country,” a source told Business Standard.

At present, private sector contributes 40 per cent of the total seed supply in the country estimated to be around 350 lakh quintals every year.

Lack of high-quality certified seeds both for cereals and also for fruits and vegetables along with their poor replacement ratio have been one of the main drawbacks of Indian agriculture.

Demands have kept rising, though there has been progress to continued efforts to improve research and development of newer and better varieties of seeds. As per government estimates in the 2010-11 crop marketing year, the country’s seed availability exceeded demand by around 23.21 lakh quintals, while in the current crop marketing year supplies were more than the demand by an equal amount.

The National Seed Plan framed in 2005 had assessed that India would need an overall 258 lakh quintals of seeds annually in the next five years.

However, that assessment was surpassed in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-2012 itself because of higher area coverage under cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables.

At present, the government is also working on a new seeds bill that it had introduced in Parliament in this July, but is reworking after several MPs proposed amendments. “The revised seed bill will be sent to the Cabinet for approval,” an official said.

The world needs to let farmers recycle seeds

Shalini Bhutani

The linkage between agriculture and environment is well understood. But not everything that is sold as good for agriculture is good for the environment! As more new untested agricultural technologies hit the market, risks for the environment rise too.

New varieties of crops, high-yielding only if grown with  agricultural chemicals and abundant water, clearly have environmental implications. Similarly, potentially hazardous genetically engineered (GE) seeds may trigger irretrievable genetic change in agro ecological systems. Yet an environmental principle could well show the way forward for agriculture – that of recycling.

Recycle means to cause to repeat a cycle. In industry it is the process by which used materials are processed into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce consumption of fresh raw materials, cut down energy usage, minimise air and water pollution and lower green house gas emissions. Environmentalists have long been rallying for a more organised way to do this. Likewise, small farmers too are asking for their space to recycle. In small farm agriculture, the saving of seeds and re-using them in the next season is a time-honoured tradition. This recycling of seeds is what is under threat today.

Recycling seeds is direct competition for seed companies. ‘Reduce, resuse, recycle’ seeds clearly comes in the way of their business. Sure the seed, food and fuel industry is looking at agricultural waste and byproducts from farming. But that is purely to develop its carbon portfolios for profits.

Agro fuels so produced are yet to tip the energy balance in their favour. Meanwhile, large populations of farmers in agrarian societies like India and other parts of the world are the untapped market the seed industry is yet to totally conquer.

However, no better than in the (informal) seed sector would recycling the biological material produce a fresh supply of the same planting material. This is not guaranteed by company seeds. To assure themselves of a market, what the seed companies sell in the market are either increasingly hybrid or GE products. Hybrid seeds are the obvious choice of industry since the farmers need to buy the seeds every season. Likewise, GE seeds containing technologies that make the seed sterile, make it impossible for farmers to recycle their seeds. The practice of seed-saving is thus rendered redundant by such seed technologies.

Gap in policy

The country’s seed policies are precisely encouraging such technologies, rather than facilitating farmers to save their own seed. The ministry of agriculture (MoA) has a plan to increase the Seed Replacement Rate (SRR). As explained by MoA, seed replacement rate is the percentage of area sown out of total area of crop planted in the season by using certified/quality seeds other than the farm-saved seed. In the official view the farmers’ reliance on farm saved seeds is seen as something that needs to be corrected. There is an obvious gap in law and policy for the promotion of farmers’ seeds.

The proposed Seed Bill is about putting in place marketing rules for certified seeds of ‘quality.’ Even in the India’s National Seeds Policy 2002 the enhancement of SRR is one of the thrust areas. The intent is to replace the use of farm-saved seeds. The country’s National Seed Plan expressly aims at ensuring the SRR at 25 per cent for self-pollinated crops, 35 per cent for cross-pollinating crops and 100 per cent for hybrids. To be able to meet the demand of seed as per projections of this plan, several quintals of seeds have to be produced and the distributed to farmers across the rural landscape.

The key players envisaged in seed production are the seed industry. The government is also fostering public-private partnerships with state agricultural universities and the State Farms Corporation of India (SFCI). Seed production is the main activity at SFCI farms. Yet the reality is that the National Seed Corporation and the State Seed Corporations are not able to supply the quality and quantity of seeds that farmers need.
Interestingly, both the public and private seed sector actively prospect for farmers’ varieties as a base to build new seed products on. That explains the official emphasis on ex situ conservation and the storing away of traditional varieties in centralised collections. And there seems to a one-way traffic in terms of seed and planting materials being collected by state agencies, be it agricultural universities, research institutes, gene banks or the plant authority. The seeds that come out of these institutions are not re-usable by farmers. But the dichotomy of the situation is that farmers’ seed is considered inferior as against ‘quality’ seed mass manufactured by industry.

There is worldwide concern about the environmental impacts of achieving global food production targets. Yet growing more with less is what small farm agriculture allows. It provides a ready-made low-carbon solution for mitigating global climate change. At the centre of the many small diverse adaptive decentralised food production models are local seeds. Recycling these will also help to keep farmers as the original producers of seeds. So yes the world needs to recycle, but most of all it needs to let farmers’ recycle their own seeds.

(The writer specialises in agriculture and biodiversity issues)

Seeds of injustice

Published on Deccan Chronicle (

There is an intense scramble for the earth’s resources and ownership of nature. Big oil, big pharma, big food, big seed companies are joining hands to appropriate biodiversity and biomass — the living carbon, thereby extending the age of fossil fuels and dead carbon. Corporations view the 75 per cent biomass used by nature and local communities as “wasted”. They would like to appropriate the living wealth of the planet for making biofuels, chemicals and plastics. This will dispossess the poor of the very sources of their lives and livelihoods. The instruments for this new dispossession are technological tools of genetic engineering, synthetic biology and intellectual property rights (IPRs). A patent is supposed to be granted to an invention. But patents and IPRs are being used to own seeds, life forms and traditional knowledge. Piracy of traditional knowledge is not an invention; it is theft — we call it biopiracy. Patents are at the heart of Monsanto’s seed monopoly.

After the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement was signed in 1994, a representative of the world’s biggest seed corporation said that Monsanto had been the “patient, diagnostician and physician” in drafting the agreement which forced countries to introduce patents on life and seeds. Monsanto, which began with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is now patenting non-GM crops. On May 21, 2003, Monsanto was assigned a patent on the Indian variety of wheat, Nap Hal, by the European Patent Office (EPO), Munich, under the simple title “plants”. On January 27, 2004, Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology, along with Greenpeace and Bharat Krishak Samaj, filed a petition at EPO, challenging the patent rights given to Monsanto. The patent was revoked in October 2004. This was the third consecutive victory on the IPR front after neem and basmati, and it once again established that patents on biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and resources are based on biopiracy.

Monsanto has used nine local brinjal (eggplant) varieties to develop its Bt. brinjal. Since the Biological Diversity Act of India, 2002, requires approval for accessing indigenous biodiversity, the Karnataka Biodiversity Board complained to the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA). According to the minutes of the NBA’s meeting on June 20, 2011, “NBA may proceed legally against Mahyco/Monsanto, and all others concerned to take the issue to its logical conclusion.” Monsanto is also accessing native onion varieties to develop its proprietary hybrids. The company is going to pay `10 lakh to the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research for 25 gms each of Male Sterile (A line) and Maintener (B line) of MS 48 and MS 65 as a one-time licence fee. Is this a just price?

In May 2011, Monsanto got a patent on conventionally-bred melons from the EPO. Monsanto has used the natural resistance in Indian melons to certain plant viruses such as the “yellow stunting disorder virus”. Using conventional breeding, this resistance was introduced into other melons. While this is biopiracy of a trait evolved by Indian farmers, Monsanto has patented the plant, all parts of the plant (including the seed) and the melon fruit as its “invention”. There is an urgent need to ban all patents on life and living organisms, including biodiversity, genes and cell lines. The coalition “No Patents on Seeds” has started a campaign to exclude breeding material, plants and animals, and foods derived thereof from patentability. Industrial globalised agriculture is heavily implicated in climate change. It contributes to the three major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels, nitrogen oxide from the use of chemical fertilisers and methane from factory farming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global atmospheric concentration of N2O, largely as a result of the use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture, increased from about 270 parts per billion to 319 parts per billion in 2005. Industrial agriculture is also more vulnerable to climate change, which is intensifying droughts and floods. Monocultures lead to more frequent crop failure when rainfall does not come in time, or is too much or too little. Chemically fertilised soils have no capacity to withstand a drought.

Genetic engineering is embedded in the industrial model of agriculture based on fossil fuels. It is falsely being offered as a magic bullet for dealing with climate change. Monsanto claims that GMOs are a cure for both, food insecurity and climate change, and has been putting out the following advertisement across the world: “9 billion people to feed. A changing climate Now what? Producing more Conserving more Improving farmers lives That’s sustainable agriculture And that’s what Monsanto is all about.” All the claims this advertisement makes are false. Monsanto claims its GMO Bt. cotton gives 1,500 kg/acre, while the average is 300-400 kg/acre. The claim to increased yield is false because yield, like climate resilience, is a multi-genetic trait. Introducing toxins into a plant through herbicide resistance or Bt. toxin increases the “yield” of toxins, not of food or nutrition. Climate resilient traits are not “inventions” of corporations. They have been evolved by nature and farmers. Farmers in India have been breeding crops for millennia to come up with crops that are resistant to climate extremes. Using farmers’ varieties as “genetic material”, the biotechnology industry is playing genetic roulette — gambling on which gene complexes are responsible for which trait.

Breeding is being replaced by gambling, innovation is giving way to biopiracy, and science is being substituted by propaganda and resource-grab. Over the past 20 years, we at Navdanya, India’s biodiversity and organic farming movement, have realised that biodiverse, local, organic systems produce more food and higher farm incomes while reducing water use and risks of crop failure due to climate change. Turning the living wealth of the planet into the property of corporations through patents is a recipe for deepening the poverty and ecological crisis. Biodiversity is the basis of life; it is our living commons. We are a part of nature, not her masters and owners. IPRs on life forms, living resources and living processes are an ethical, ecological and economic perversion. We need to recognise the sovereignty of diverse knowledge systems, including traditional knowledge. And we need to reclaim our biological and intellectual commons for ecological sustainability and economic justice. Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Living Queues: Price farmers are paying for our self sufficiency

In Andhra Pradesh crop season used to start with Eruvaka….as it is called, farmers used to celebrate the onset of crop season and prepare their land. Days have changed. Monsoon don’t set as usual so…it starts with praying for a raingod… marrying frogs…carrying water to god…etc…in today’s world frogs are more dependable than the Meteorological department.

Then, by April end the farmers have to stand in queues for the seed of cotton, groundnut or paddy. the queues would be longer…in Ananthapur the queues for Groundnut seed would 4-5 km long and farmers have to stand for 2-3 days the queues. In nights…some leave chappals, bricks to mark their seat…government never told them that they can as well reuse the seed as groundnut is highly self pollinated crop and flowers do not even open leaving no chance for contamination…the state seed corporation and department of agriculture which were paid to serve the farmers needs now buy seed from the market and distribute.

with Bt cotton coming in Queues grew longer and spread to other districts as well. This year we could see such queues in all parts of the states. The seed prices are increasing but no seed is available.

In the meantime the queues for agriculture credit begins. The farmers have to stand in Queues for crop loans (if they own a land) or before private money lender.

The long standing in these queues do not fetch them any loan but only a paper that the loan is bookadjusted…in Andhra Pradesh more than 82 % of the farmers have atleast a unpaid loan of Rs. 25,000.

Then comes the fertiliser queues. Scientists and Governments have made farmers intoxicated for fertilisers. We are all told that we cannot grow crops with fertilisers…the fetiliser use is increasing and the production of fertilisers is not able to meet the growing demand. The government gives fetiliser subsidies which is also increasing the fertiliser cues. in 2009 it reached 1.20 lakh crores which is 15 % in Indian Budget 2 % more than Defence Budget. between 2004 and 2009 the fertiliser subsidy increased by more than 650 %

If every thing goes well farmers have to again stand in queues for selling their produce. many times they may have to sleep in the market yards to sell their produce. last few years there is no increase in the prices and procurement has also stopped.

After all these what they get would be less than what they spend.
This is the price are paying for ‘our’ self suffiency….farmers lost their self sufficiency…after 64 years of independence is this what we want?
Is this the Swaraj? when do we get Kisan Swaraj?

Seeds of Change

Seed is the only part of the agricultural chain that is growing at 20% a year and is insulated from both government subsidies and weather vagaries. And, in the clamour for higher yields and greater farmer acceptance, seed companies are hitting a sweet spot in innovation, reports Nidhi Nath Srinivas 

Economic Times (New Delhi), 28th June, 2011.

At his plush Banjara Hills office in Hyderabad, India’s seed-industry capital, M Prabhakar Rao, chairman and managing director of Nuziveedu Seeds, is drawing up plans for an IPO next year. Whatever the timing, he knows it will be a cinch. “It’s a recession-proof business,” he says with the quiet confidence of a CEO who found private equity firm Blackstone on his doorstep with Rs 200 crore in 2008. In nearby Jubilee Hills, Dr Paresh Verma, director of research at Shriram Bioseed, has signed off his company’s 2010-11 numbers with a 44% jump in turnover, to Rs 292 crore. His target this year is 42%. “We will see similar growth for the next four years,” he says. A 20% growth rate and a 50% gross margin have become routine because of the opportunity, says M Harish Reddy, the dapper managing director of Ganga Kaveri Seeds, who chose this over his family’s other business of bottling Budweiser beer. There’s an unmistakable buzz in and around the $1.5 billion Indian seed industry. “It has the potential to grow to $2.5 billion in the next five years,” says Adityendra Kumar, analyst at Rabobank India. The last two-and-a-half years have seen six equity deals worth $153 million being signed. “For us, it’s a play for the next 20 years, not the usual five,” adds Manish Jain, whose private equity fund Axis Holdings has invested $5 million in Kaveri Seeds and is preparing to sew up two more deals. Multinationals are hunting for Indian players with research skills in cash crops like cotton, corn and vegetables. As are cash-rich homegrown companies like the Rs 900 crore Nuziveedu, India’s largest seed company. Also, fertiliser and agro-chemical companies, like Rallis India of the Tata Group, are diversifying here. “Acquirers have paid high premiums,” says Kumar. Investors and companies are buying the macro story: the growing demand to feed a billion mouths, millions of whom transit to a superior diet every year; rising food prices; the world’s second-largest arable area; and the $150 billion Indian agriculture sector. But that’s not all they are buying into. If so, any agricultural business would pass muster. But most in India don’t because they are either out of bounds, or are plagued by government subsidies or weather vagaries (See graphic: The One Attractive Link…). By comparison, seeds is a free market for all practical purposes; it is breaking new ground in adoption and innovation; and, no matter what the weather, a farmer will sow.


A pivotal change is in the offing in how farmers sow. About 70% of the seeds sown in India are those saved from the previous year. Compared to new seeds, they yield less and are more disease-prone. The government has set a seed replacement rate—percentage of new seeds in a year—target of 40%. “If that happens, the industry will grow three times,” says Dr Verma. While the government is using policy to increase consumption of new seeds, companies are improving product quality. The industry is, today, at a point where cuttingedge technology meets high finance and industrial farming. The main challenge is to increase yields. Agricultural land is finite. So, to feed a population that is growing and eating more, that means drawing more output from the same land. That means losing less to the three giant killers: heat, thirst and pests. That means withstanding floods. That means lowering farming costs. A tiny seed, which has greater potential for innovation than anything else in the agri chain, can deliver all these. “Seed is the agent for change,” says Dr Gyanendra Shukla, director at Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India. “From farmers and industry to scientists and government, everybody understands that change is faster and cheaper by leveraging seeds.”


Broadly speaking, there are two types of seeds. The first are varietals, which pollinate by themselves; they can be reused, but with diminishing returns. The second are hybrids, which are developed through controlled pollination and cannot be reused. Barring wheat and soybean, other crops have both types of seeds. In 2010-11, hybrids accounted for Rs 5,000 crore of the industry’s Rs 8,000 crore turnover. “Farmers have understood that varietals appears cheap, but are more expensive in the long run,” says Reddy of Ganga Kaveri Seeds. “Seeds become tired, and lose yield potential and quality from onegeneration to the next.” Adds Amitabh Jaipuria, managing director of Monsanto India: “Conversion of area from varieties to hybrids will be the next big thing. As we saw in cotton, the availability of technologycan lead to faster adoption.” Monsanto transformed the Indian cotton market with Bt cotton, a hybrid introduced in 2002-03. Between that year and 2010-11, when 90% of cotton farms had Bt seeds, yields increased from 302 kg a hectare to 503 kg a hectare. And production from 13.6 million bales to 32.5 million bales, turning India from cotton importer to the world’s second-largest producer and exporter. Today, cotton accounts for half the hybrid seeds sold in India. Seed companies are looking to replicate that story in more crops. For them, hybrids promise growth and value, which varietals don’t. “Seed accounts for 5-15% of the cost of production,” says Jaipuria. “A farmer is willing to pay for value, performance and consistent quality. If you deliver this, you can recover value.” At present, hybrids are available for cotton, corn, pearl millet, sorghum, sunflower and vegetables. Greater adoption of hybrids means more seeds sold, which will mostly benefit the private sector. There are two central government companies and 13 state seed corporations. But their efforts are inadequate, says Ramesh Chand, director at the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research. “Up to labs, government is good. But state seed corporations have become defunct.” Companies are reinvesting profits in research, expansion and asset creation, in that order. “R&D is the only differentiator to increase value for a farmer,” says Reddy. “With stronger IPR (intellectual property rights), companies are competing to show farmers a 15-20% increase in yields.”


Corn hybrids are a Rs 700 crore market, with Rs 70 crore being invested in R&D by Indian companies alone; investment in rice hybrids is a steady Rs 15-20 crore a year, says Dr Verma. The DuPont Knowledge Centre at the Genome Valley near Hyderabad has grown to 400 scientists in two-and-a-half years. “We were attracted by the quality of people available in India,” says director Homi Bhedwar. Companies need a large bank of germ plasm—the building block of a seed that houses traits—and capital. “It (germ plasm) is scarce, expensive and must be refined properly to meet breeding objectives,” says KV Subbarao, country manager of Pioneer Hi-Bred India, a subsidiary of DuPont India. Biotechnology is taking hybrids to another level, by tinkering with genes to alter traits of seeds. But launching a commercially viable hybrid is a slog, with a high risk of failure, which discourages smaller players. “The discovery of a new trait can take 2-10 years. From idea to dealer, it takes another 10 years, if all goes well,” says Subbarao. “It can cost up to $120 million in the US to develop a transgenic product with a good chance of becoming an industrial success.” Farm biotech is the fastest-growing segment of India’s biotechnology industry, says Dr KK Narayanan, co-founder and managing director of Metahelix, which developed an alternative technology for Bt cotton. Biotechnology brought with it a new business model. Monsanto India, through its joint venture Mahyco Monsanto, has licensed its basic Bt cotton technology, based on genetic modification, to 35 companies. Such tie-ups allow Indian companies to leapfrog several years of research, and enter the market cheaply and quickly.


Companies are making variants to be relevant in all eight agro-climatic zones of India. They are setting up shop in Africa and South-east Asia, where the climate is similar to India. They are venturing into new crops with untapped market potential. Monsanto, for instance, is investing in vegetable seeds, a Rs 800 crore market. It has to start from scratch because vegetables that are popular abroad, like broccoli and lettuce, don’t fly in India yet. Challenges will increase. The pool of scientists and researchers is limited. And expanding marketing and distribution calls for more spending. “Seed is a show-and-tell business,” says Vidya Sagar Parchuri, CMD of the Rs 650 crore Vibha Seeds. “Each year, we hold 10,000 demonstrations for 100,000 farmers. Village-night meetings, posters, hoardings and advertising are extra.” All this eats into the 50% gross margin that good companies typically earn. Technology has increased risk by shortening the product shelf life from 10-12 years to 7-8 years. “After introducing a new seed, it takes two years to scale it up. It sells for four years and then declines because new rivals enter the market,” says Subbarao, making a case for a strong pipeline of hybrids. As R&D costs increase, companies are expected to seek alliances with government research institutes and state agricultural universities, which can develop technology but need help to commercialise it. “The Green Revolution was driven by the public sector, the Bt cotton revolution by the private sector,” says Shukla. “The next push will come from public-private partnerships.” Companies say if policies encourage competition and innovation, promote a science-based regulatory regime and protect intellectual rights, investment and growth will continue. It’s why they decry the proposed Seed Bill 2008, which penalises companies for crop failure. “It can’t prevent the problem of counterfeit seeds,” says Rao of Nuziveedu. It’s why instead of subsidised seeds—which some states, including UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bihar, offer—they suggest a cash subsidy. “Government subsidy takes away merit,” says Jaipuria. Adds Rao: “Give a cash subsidy against a bill to give farmer the freedom to buy.” Those are small issues, but the big story has been planted.


Maharashtra agriculture minister warns black listing of Mahyco

PUNE: Maharashtra agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said that his government is considering black listing Mahyco company for severe irregularities in sale of seeds, especially the Bt cotton seeds.

The state government has also issued written instructions to big fertiliser companies like RCF, Zuari and Dipak Fertilisers for linking sale of their other agricultural inputs with the fertiliser sale. Mahyco has denied the charges of the agriculture minister.

“Mahyco produces its seeds in this state. Yet there are so many complaints against them from the farmers and the delears. We have already filed an FIR against the company and may even suspend their license to sale seeds in the state and black list the company in Maharashtra,” said Mr Vikhe Patil.

He added, “As against their contractual agreement to sale 16.5 lakh packets of Bt seeds, they have sold only 1.91 lakh packets, which is only 11.40% of their contractual commitment. This is cheating of farmers and the government.”

Mahyco has however denied the charges of the agriculture department. “We have given an undertaking and promised the government of Maharashtra to provide 10.56 lakh packets of various hybrids of Bt cotton seeds for the Kharif 2011 season. As of date Mahyco has supplied 10.77 lakh packets against the agreed quantity in the districts of Maharashtra. The seed supply has exceeded the quantities indicated in the affidavit filed with the department of Agriculture. Hence, there is no breach of undertaking by the company as given to the department of agriculture,” said the company in its reply.

Maharashtra farmers have been facing severe fertiliser and seeds shortage from past two to three years. The common problem is of linking the fertiliser sale with sale of other inputs like seeds, pesticides etc. Thus, if a farmer wants to buy specific seed of specific company, he is compelled to purchase also the other inputs of the same companies.

Mr Vikhe-Patil said, “We have complaints of linking against Zuari Industries , Dipak Fertilisers and RCF. The companies blame it on the dealers. So we have now asked the companies to take actions against the dealers to which they have agreed.”

The agricultural department has already sealed fertilisers worth Rs 24 crore of the Dipak Fertilisers company in Pune. “We have issued stop sale notice to Dipak Fertilisers for the sealed quantity of fertilisers as some of the quantity was meant for linking purpose,” said Mr Vikhe Patil.

Meanwhile, though the farmers have collected inputs after facing much hardships, the state is lagging behind in sowing as compared to the normal sowing schedule.

As against 28% overall sowing excluding sugar cane till June 27, last year, only 9% sowing has been done during the comparable period this year. But 41% talukas, mostly in Vidarbha and Marathwada in the state have received less than 60% rainfall. As a result the sowing of pulses, cotton and soyabean is lagging behind last year’s sowing rate. Maharashtra has highest acreage of cotton and second highest acreage of soyabean and pulses.