The foremost objective of agriculture is yield maximisation for which quality seed development is necessary. The efficacy of other agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides, and irrigation in enhancing agricultural production is largely determined by the quality of seed. According to agricultural experts, quality of seed accounts for 20-25% of agricultural productivity.
Seed production in India
The central government’s ‘Indian Seeds Programme’ recognises three stages of seed production, namely, breeder, foundation, and certified seeds. Breeder seeds are produced by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and that leads to foundation seeds which are produced by National Seeds Corporation (NSC), State Farm Corporation of India (SFCI), State Seeds Corporation (SSC) and private seed producers and the certified seeds are produced and distributed by state governments.
There are mainly three varieties of seeds used in Indian agriculture - traditional, hybrid and Genetically Modified (GM) seeds. Traditional seeds are those which can be stored by farmers for re-sowing in the next crop season. Hybrid seeds are obtained by cross pollination of different varieties of related plants and combine the desirable properties of their parent plants. On the other hand, GM seeds are developed in laboratories by genetic engineering by combining merging genes of different organisms (like bacteria genes with plants) so as to yield the desired characteristics.
Challenges of Indian farmers relating to seeds
Among various challenges faced by Indian farmers, the most important are quality, price, and availability of seeds on time. Most Indian farmers are economically weak and find it difficult to purchase seeds as they have to invest heavily in pesticides and fertilisers. Therefore, they are mainly dependent on traditional seeds. The major advantage of these seeds is that the farmers need not purchase them every year from seed companies. Additionally, these seeds are not harmful for the environment. Prof. Dr. Prabir Chakraborti, Head, Department of Seed Science and Technology, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, West Bengal, informed BE, “Indigenous seeds are more cost effective as compared to any other variety of seeds and the farmers are self-dependent in case of production of these seeds. They are natural and have a high nutritional value.” However, the main problem with these seeds is low productivity. Dr. Chakraborti added, “Indigenous seeds are less productive compared to other varieties and thus are unable to feed the ever increasing population of the country.”
In a country like India where food shortage is still prevalent, the problem of traditional seeds can be addressed by hybrid seeds. Dr. Chakraborti said, “Hybrid seeds are more productive and faster growing as compared conventional seeds. Theses seeds are less susceptible to pests and plant diseases. Another advantage of hybrid seeds is that they are more adaptive to environmental changes.” However, hybrid seeds have certain drawbacks. The main disadvantage of hybrid seeds is that they are not regenerative and the farmers are bound to purchase them every crop season. He explained, “As hybrid seeds cannot be saved for the next crop season because of their segregating character in the F2 generation, farmers are bound to depend on big seed companies. This pushes up their input costs.”
The government has tried to address these issues through GM seeds. GM seeds can solve the problem of food shortage in India as these seeds can increase agricultural productivity drastically. Moreover, it requires less water, fertilizers and pesticides compared to hybrid and conventional seeds. Dr. Chakraborti said, “GM seeds are of very advanced variety and are capable of satisfying the food requirements of our country.” The main drawback of GM seeds is that it risks the ecosystem because the traits produced from genetic engineering can result in the disruption of the natural flow of genes.