Seeds occupy a peculiar position in agriculture. They are at the root of big policy-making, scaled agricultural outputs, while also at the top of discourses on food security, livelihood and innovation. They may seem to strengthen the quality food policy but are integral to farmers. Recently, the ministry of agriculture and farmer’s welfare introduced the draft seed bill, 2019 in the parliament. It was introduced with the aim of regulating the seed industry in India and ensuring the welfare of farmers through regulating the prices of hybrid seeds, ensuring certification of seeds, holding seed companies accountable if seeds don’t perform according to the expectations, etc. It was followed by the protest by farmers all over India stating that it threatens the sovereignty of farmers over seeds.
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Which are the previous acts regulating the seed industry?
- Seed development policy, 1988– this development policy was having special emphasis on the import of high-quality seeds, a time-bound programme to strengthen or modernise the plant quarantine facility, effective observance on the procedure/ post-entry quarantine and incentives to encourage domestic seed industry
- National seed development policy, 2002– was launched to provide intellectual property protection to new varieties, protect the interests of farmers and encourage conservation of agro-biodiversity, import of seeds and planting material, the export of seeds, promotion of domestic seed
- Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPVFR Act)– enacted to provide for the establishment of an effective system for the protection of plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders, and to encourage the development and cultivation of new varieties of plant
What is the status of the seed industry in India?
- The Indian seeds market reached a value of US$ 1 Billion in 2018, exhibiting a CAGR of 15.7% during 2011-2018.
- India has emerged as the fifth largest seed market across the globe
- growth in income levels, commercialization of agriculture, patent protection systems and intellectual rights over plant varieties, have given a great push to the market.
- Owing to these factors, the Indian seeds market is further expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.6% during 2019-2024, reaching a value of US$ 9.1 Billion by 2024
What is the need to introduce Draft seed bill, 2019?
- Seed replacement rate– SRR is the measure of how much of the total cropped area was sown with certified seeds in comparison to farm-saved seeds
- Quality and Standards of seed variety– it is necessary to have the high quality of seeds to improve the productivity as well as production
- Registration of seed variety– registration will help in enforcing the accountability to the seller and producer of seed
- Farmers’ protection– in case of failure of seed to perform at the expected level, producer of seed can be compelled provide compensation to the farmers
What are the features of Draft seed bill, 2019?
- Quality regulation– aims to regulate the quality of seeds for import, export, and replace the seed act, 1966
- Registration of seeds– all varieties of the seeds have to be registered and are required to meet the minimum standards. If failed to meet the perform up to the expected standards, farmers can claim compensation from the producer or dealer.
- Mandatory certification– it is mandatory to register all types of seeds through proper lab process instead of earlier clause of self-certification by the company in the 2004 act
- Regulation of prices– government will regulate the prices in situations like an abnormal rise in the prices of seeds, scarcity of seeds, monopolistic pricing, etc.
- Exemption of farmers– farmers are allowed to sow, exchange or sell their farm seeds and planting material without having to conform to the prescribed minimum standards like limits of physical germination, physical purity, and genetic purity. However, farmers can’t sell their seed under the brand name
- Penalties- for contravening any provision of the act and for those selling misbranded or substandard seeds
- Seed committee– authorises the central government to constitute central seed committee, that will be responsible for the implementation of its provisions
What are the advantages of Draft seed bill, 2019?
- Increased production– registered seeds will give more production as compare to the non-registered seeds
- Quality of seeds– seeds will be tested in the laboratories which will ensure good quality seeds which will lead to the increased production
- Farmers’ welfare– farmers will be compensated in the case of non-performance of seeds as per the expectations. Regulation of prices in the adverse condition will also safeguard the farmers from paying a hasty increase in the prices of seeds
- Deterrence– penalties in case of non-compliance with the provisions of the bill will deter the producers of seed from cheating the farmers
- Implementation- the establishment of a separate seed committee will result in the better implementation of provisions of the bill
What are the disadvantages/concerns of Draft seed bill, 2019?
- Definition of the farmer– The very definition of “farmer” has been changed to allow corporations and traders to be counted as a farmer. Farmer means any person who owns cultivable land or any other category of farmers who are doing the agricultural work as may be notified by the Central / State Governments.
- Compulsory registration of seeds– many seeds may be registered under the Seeds Bill but may not come under the PPVFR Act. For example, a seed variety developed by a breeder, but derived from a traditional variety. no gain will accrue to farmers as benefit-sharing is dealt with in the PPVFR Act, under which the seed is not registered.
- Data needed to register seeds– as per the PPVFR Act, all applications for registrations should contain the complete passport data of the parental lines from which the seed variety was derived, including contributions made by farmers. This allows for easier identification of beneficiaries and simpler benefit-sharing processes. Seeds Bill, demands no such information while registering a new variety. an important method of recording the contributions of farmers is overlooked and private companies are left free to claim a derived variety as their own
- Regulation of seed price– vague provision for the regulation of seed prices appears in the latest draft of the Seeds Bill, it appears neither sufficient nor credible.
- Compensation- according to the PPVFR Act, if a registered variety fails in its promise of performance, farmers can claim compensation before a PPVFR Authority. This provision is diluted in the Seeds Bill, where disputes on compensation have to be decided as per the Consumer Protection Act. Consumer courts are hardly ideal and friendly institutions that farmers can approach. according to the Seeds Bill, farmers become eligible for compensation if a plant variety fails to give expected results under “given conditions”. “Given conditions” is almost impossible to define in agriculture.
- Tracing of seed package– The new Bill or the old one had no provisions that will make seed packet traceable to the original manufacturer, etc. Even if traceability was ensured, it won’t be easy to attribute an episode of crop failure to poor quality of seeds
What is the way forward?
- Farmer friendly pieces of legislation are difficult to frame and execute given the inherent nature of the seed.
- The public agricultural research system should be encouraged so that private players will have competition and incentives to do research and development in seeds.
- Infrastructure for registering the seeds should be created.
- There must be proper guidelines for the regulation of price so that private companies can have a proper idea regarding the prevailing situation and can invest without the fear of loss.
- 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
- For traceability of seed package, there may be a system like barcoding
It is necessary to regulate the seed industry and protect the farmers’ rights to achieve the goal of doubling the farmer’s income. It will help in combating the recent economic slowdown if farmers’ rights are protected and their welfare is ensured.