Monitoring the seed market
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
May 16, 2011: THE need to bring some regulation in cotton seed market seems to be increasing by the day. The chaos that rules the market surfaced in a recent meeting of the Expert Committee on Cotton of the Punjab government, which noted that some 41 traditional seed varieties, some of them
of questionable quality, provide business to over 600 companies.
Experts also believe that most of these varieties have run out of their utility, but are being sold on the basis of sheer marketing by the private sector and bought by confused farmers.
It is largely because once registered, there is no practical mechanism for de-registering a seed variety even if it becomes totally redundant. The registration process has its own flaws. Seeds with germination potential as low as 50 per cent got through the registration process and doubled the seed cost for farmers. But they are still being sold to rob the crop of any sustainability in its yield.
Encouraged by the impervious behaviour of the government, most of the official monitors and researchers have become part of the problem. The monitors are now marketing seeds on behalf of private companies and researchers are selling their own un-registered and untested seeds. To make the matter worse, the agriculture bureaucracy is aware of the problem but unwilling to act. That is where things stand today.
The country still lacked a proper monitoring system of traditional varieties when it approved eight BT seeds and compounded the problem for itself and t farmers. If these BT seeds also go the way traditional varieties have gone, cotton may be in for big trouble. So, it may be the time to set things right.
The world has moved to BT and hybrid varieties, and they are coming thick and fast – every year, the companies introduce new and better yielding seeds and reap the benefit. Pakistan approved these eight varieties on the basis of two crop data, which actually means that a variety would take four to five years to get final approval. It is very likely, given the pace with which new varieties are hitting the world market that by the time a variety is finally approved in four to five years, it has already lost its utility.
Thus, we need to review the process. The new seed could be given provisional approval on the basis of crop data, with a strong warning that if the variety does not yield the desired results, it runs the risk of de-registration within next two to three years. If a variety meets production parameters first year, it would likely behave the same way next year as well. At least that is what the scientists believe.
Granting quick and provisional approval would serve three purposes: increased competition in the seed sector that would improve quality and bring the prices down, force the seller to continuously improve quality or risk his variety being thrown out of the market, and bring the latest seeds in the country.
The country experimented with the same approach with pesticides in 1985 and is now reaping the benefit despite all official slackness. It allowed pesticides companies to work on new molecules and currently it has all the molecules that pesticides companies have in the world. Even India does not have that kind of latest molecules because of policy hiccups.
The country needs to open up its BT and hybrid cotton seed sector the same way it did in the case of pesticides. But monitoring mechanism must be stronger than in the case of pesticides sector.
Once the BT and hybrid sector are opened up, the companies should be forced to go into quality improvement and put up seed processing plants to compete on quality. In Pakistan, some of the seeds with 50 per cent germination potential are
being sold against world standards of around 80 per cent. There are some seed varieties in the world that ensure even 100 per cent germination. The country needs to learn from such companies and countries.
There are around four to five ecological zones in the country as far as cotton production is concerned, unless, of course, it is expanded to other areas. The government can also see how a particular variety of seed suites a particular zone, and restrict that variety to that area as well. But all this would need a robust monitoring of the seed sector, which, unfortunately is missing so far.
If the government does not want to get involved in the process of monitoring, it can go for third party validation through a transparent process, and make the seed companies pay for it. The seed companies, which literally make billions out of their business, must be made to pay for two things: monitoring and validation systems and extension services. All new seeds require a certain production protocol, which the seed sellers must be made to take them to farmers, relieving the government official of the task, which they do not do anyway.
Beyond the BT seeds, the government must press its research centres to come up with a better seed variety, and a better variety in Pakistan’s context would be one that is CLCV resistant. So far, the country has some varieties that are considered to be CLCV tolerant, but not resistant.
If the country somehow finds a CLCV resistant variety, it would add two to three million bales to its production. Add the BT or hybrid advantage to it and the total benefit from the cotton sector could range between $4 and $5 billion. Both of them are worth trying.
Courtesy: The DAWN