Insights into Editorial: Seed Bill must serve farmers, not MNCs
The revised draft Seeds Bill 2019, which the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare placed in the public domain recently for suggestions and comments, seems to be a watered-down version of a draft prepared.
The Bill is aimed at ensuring supply of modern, high quality, cutting edge seed technologies to the farmers which will help them in enhancing their productivity and profitability. The Bill amends the Seed Act 1966 and Seed Rules 1968.
It is evident that the seed industry has been at the centre of the significant advances made in agriculture in the last four decades and will continue to do in the years to come.
After the ‘Green Revolution’, India was quick to introduce the Seed Act 1966 as the first act to govern matters of seed and seed quality.
It was modelled on the US legislation and aided by a later enactment of the Seed Rules 1968, which were also developed with the collaboration of the US.
The seed industry in India has been governed by several legislative & policy frameworks such as Seed Act (1966), Seed Rules (1968), Seed (Control) Order (1983), New Policy on Seed Development (1988), Plants, Fruits & Seeds (Regulation of Import into India) Order (1989), Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act (2001), and the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 including Seeds (1955), National Seed Policy (2002), and Seed Bill (2004).
The Seed Bill (2004) was proposed to replace the Seed Act (1966), however, owing to several shortcomings it was not passed. The 2019 draft version tries to overcome the drawbacks of the 2004 Bill.
Seed is the expression of diversity of traits and agroclimatic zones, where varieties are bred by farmers and to which they are adapted.
Draft Seeds Bill will discourage seed-tech firms:
All varieties of seeds for sale have to be registered and are required to meet certain prescribed minimum standards.
- For instance, for transgenic varieties of seeds, registration is to be obtained under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. This can bring greater accountability to seed companies.
Farmers are allowed to sow, exchange or sell their farm seeds and planting material without having to conform to the prescribed minimum limits of germination, physical purity and genetic purity (as required by registered seeds). However, farmers cannot sell any seed under a brand name.
Therefore, recommendation is that exemption of export-oriented varieties from registration has been made. This will encourage custom production of seeds in India.
There must be a system of accreditation of national level research-based companies with integrated facilities for research, product testing, data analytics, seed production, seed quality control, seed processing, farmer extension and marketing.
These companies need to be given a national licence that can be renewed at regular intervals based on fresh inspections and track record.
New Seeds Bill to Revolutionize Indian Agriculture, Implementation Doubts:
- In the proposed Bill, there is a differentiation between the Seed Producer, Processor and the Seed Dealer for the purpose of licensing.
- However, there is no recognition of National Level Integrated Seed Companies with R&D capabilities, national-level variety evaluation system, seed production, testing and storage facilities etc.
- It is pertinent to note that there are several hundreds of seed producers who only obtain the breeder seeds of the varieties developed by ICAR system, IARI or SAUs.
- Whereas there are certain other companies who also have substantial facilities for research and development along with nationwide new variety evaluation system besides seed production, processing and testing infrastructure spread across several States.
- There is a need to recognize the scale and size of the operations of the companies and devise regulation accordingly. Therefore, this new provision is being proposed by NSAI.
- The national-level integrated seed companies may be registered centrally by the DACFW, MoAFW, Govt. of India and a central license may be given for production, processing and marketing of registered seed.
To describe seeds, not according to traits and agroclimatic zones but as “national seed” if grown in more than one state and “state seed” if grown in one state, has no scientific basis.
This is a commercial description to facilitate the marketing and the spread of unreliable and costly seeds from MNCs.
For the farmer, the redressal mechanism has to be simple, accessible and time bound.
The primary onus has to be taken by the State, to get justice for farmers in case of seed quality failures. It cannot be left to individual farmers to fight it out as consumers in the market
The seed law must have the twin objective of regulating the supply of seeds for the benefit of the farmers and, at the same time, enable the development of the seed industry.
Quality seeds are India’s lifeline. Farming, food and the livelihood of over 60 per cent of the Indian population depend on them.
A failed harvest has the potential to curtail our GDP and force millions of Indians into poverty and hunger until the next harvest. Overall, India depends on seeds to sustain life.
The present government has a chance to seed a unique and progressive Seed Bill or plagiarize from others.
We are sure our government will not let us down in their decision, and ensure their seed bill will give plentiful harvests for Indian farmers and industry.
Ultimately, the quality seed will be available to the farmers at competitive prices subject to a vibrant growth of the seed industry in an enabling environment.
Healthy seed industry will lead to enhanced quality seed availability at affordable prices to the farmers.