Seed bill: hopes and fears

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review (May 10 to May 17)

By Hafeez ur Rehman

RECENTLY, Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture Nazar Mohammad Gondal introduced a bill in the Parliament to amend the Seed Act 1976, making the draft law more effective. The bill is designed to increase the role of the private sector through registration of seed companies, dealers and processing units and provide an opportunity to make available pre-basic seed for production of basic and certified seed. It will also place a check people selling substandard seed in the market.

It will also help in development of technology and seed industry through accredited testing laboratories in the private and public sector. Amendments to the Act will provide training opportunities to people involved in the seed sector and help regulate the quality of transgenic varieties of seeds and ensure their maximum availability to farmers. Reduced import will encourage multinational, national and private sectors to invest in local seed production.

Along with this, plant breeders’ right for variety development will open new research horizon in the seed sector starting breeding programme for development of high yielding hybrids with the investment of private sector. Permission will be granted for the sale of imported seeds after they have been tested for two years and importers have examined their results after trials. However, permission of the Seed Council has also been termed mandatory.

According to the amendment plan, three-month imprisonment and Rs25, 000 fine will be imposed on the first violation of the new bill, while six-month imprisonment and Rs200,000 fine will be imposed on those violating it for the second time. This will protect the local seed industry and save farmers from investment in purchase of high cost seed by supporting competitive agrarian economy.

But small farmers are concerned about the proposed bill and the Plant Breeders Rights Acts 2008, maintaining that they are anti-farmer and will help multinational companies get control over country’s natural resources such as local seeds and plants and deprive growers of their right to preserving, bartering and growing seeds that has the practice for thousands of years.

Companies having control over generic resources such as local seeds and plants will deprive the farmers of their indigenous rights of production and livelihood. Providing a legal cover to such an act, the farmers, who are the custodian of indigenous varieties, will have to depend on multinationals to buy seeds or pay royalty to these companies in every crop season if proposed seed amendment bill is passed by the National Assembly.

In addition, there is need to install cleaning units, to correspond with procurement target, to build appropriate storage facilities to maintain seed quality and better marketing system to make seed supply chain to farmers effective through public sector involvement.

This amendment bill for planning and management will attract foreign investors to set up industry either independently or through joint venture with national private seed sector.

To strengthen the plant breeding programme, it should include not only the conventional breeding but also the advanced molecular approaches such as seed biotechnology for development of new high-yield varieties of different crops, well adapted to local agro-ecological conditions. Due to great diversity in climate, zoning of seed production specific for crops would be necessary. Quality seed, having maximum germination as well as vigour, should be assessed and marketed. For this, testing labs will have to be developed at district level or at least the divisional level.

Seed purity should be ensured and it must be graded, properly packed and guaranteed. It should indicate crop and variety name, germination percentage, purity percentage, and moisture contents.

Poor infrastructure, lack of financial incentives and outdated marketing system and absence of basic seed production programme are some of the hindrances in the country’s seed sector development.

The sector comprises both public sector organisations and private companies that cater to many arable as well horticultural crops requirements. This requirement is met by imports due to short supply of certified seed from the agriculture department and lack of hybrid seed production by companies.

In spite of quarantine laws for import, 90 per cent of the requirement comes either from farmer’s procurement or through commission agents, retailers and shopkeepers playing the role of middleman and providing low quality seed. Less than 20-25 per cent of certified seed is only supplied by the agriculture department. The available processing capacity does not correspond to the procurement needs due to lack of small cleaning units at union level.

To improve agriculture output, there is need to organise systematic seed production, reduce seed import and develop appropriate storage facilities.

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