Shiven Singh, a farmer from Mohani in Madhya Pradesh’s Rewa, is in a fix whether he will be able to sow paddy at the right time as monsoon is inching closer to the state. While some farmers have already planted seeds for rice seedlings, he hopes he will get seeds from the government stores, commonly known as Vikray Kendra.
Millions of farmers like Singh in the state are facing the predicament of long wait or paying exorbitant prices to private sellers for paddy and soyabean seeds, among others, to begin sowing.
Narrating his ordeal, Singh said that he did not get seeds even after visiting stores regularly for 15 days. “The rains are around the corner and there are no seeds at selling centres. The private sellers are selling a bag of three kilogram for Rs 700. I cannot afford this,” he told NewsClick.
He further explained that the whole selling process goes without any receipt of the transaction. The practice remains rampant among sellers to save their skin if seeds later turn out to be substandard. When asked about the reasons behind the scarcity, he said, “I really do not know but it’s an annual affair now. The farmers have no choice but to bear the brunt of the misdeeds of the government.”
About 600 km away from Rewa, Sher Khan, a soyabean growing farmer from Ujjain shared a similar story of an ignorant administration and the plunder of private players. Khan said that the sowing of soyabean should be done within a specific period when the moisture in the soil is not excessive.
“I have been hopping from one store to another for the last five days but the seeds are not available. Private sellers are selling it at Rs 10,000 per quintal, almost double the rate of the government seeds, and they are not even ready to issue a slip or take guarantee if the seeds would bear fruits. We are waiting for three to four days and if the seeds are not made available, we would be hitting the streets,” he added.
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The common complaint of farmers about seeds not bearing fruits is attributed to substandard seeds sold in the open market without due checking and certification. Ramjeet Singh, a farmer who runs a cooperative seed production committee, suggested that the sellers have been selling the produce of hybrid seeds which does not bear fruits as they have been genetically modified to bear fruits only once in their lifetime. So, they need to buy these seeds every time from the market.
Since most of the cooperative seed production committees belong to influential people, the forgery does not get investigated. Singh explained that a similar scenario exists for fertilisers as farmers have to line up in queues to get their stacks. While state Agriculture Minister Kamal Patel is holding the failed crops of soyabean in the previous year responsible for this scarcity, agricultural experts underline a slew of reasons for the drastic scarcity.
NewsClick spoke with a senior agricultural scientist at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, regarding the possible reasons why hybrid seeds are genetically modified in such a way that they cannot be grown again from the produce.
The scientist, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Hybrid seeds were introduced to increase the food production. Why they cannot be grown again is simply because traditional high yield varieties are self pollinating varieties which means that their pollen would be fertilised through own ovules. But hybrid seeds are prepared through cross fertilisation.”
“Now, the DNA of rice contains 12 chromosomes. When we cross fertilise them, it is very much possible that traits of both varieties would be there in the same seeds but it also compromises their reproduction capacity, essentially meaning a lot seeds may not grow again,” he explained.
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He added, “Please understand that the availability of seeds should be seen through the prism of the governments. Both the Union and state governments did not invest enough in the infrastructure of agriculture universities which could have become a source of seeds rather than handing over of the sector to private players. Second, hybrid seeds brought food security to many nations which were starving earlier. So, they should not be demonised because the government failed to act on its part.”
Saurabh Sharma, retired agriculture scientist and president of the Madhya Pradesh Vigyan Sabha, told NewsClick that the scarcity of the seeds in the state can be attributed to the nexus of local politicians and traders which ensures that no permanent mechanism is put in place to maintain proper supply.
He said, “The seeds are made available through state seed corporation or local seed production committees. Now, one has to understand that the committees need to get their seeds properly tested and certified. The certification agencies generally test whether the seeds are germinating or not. They do not see if seeds are genetically fit for reproduction. This can be tested in labs only and the state labs do not have human resources and enough infrastructure to conduct regular checks.”
“Secondly, the committees, which enjoy political patronage, need to do grading, packaging and then supply to the state seed corporation where it would take months to get back the payment. Thus, the committees prefer to sell in open market and save the expenses of grading and packaging. Mind you they take down a big amount of subsidy given by government additionally,” he went on to add.
The third reason, according to him is that, if the committees find that a particular crop is high in demand, they choose to trade seeds as produce in open markets. “For example, mustard oil is getting costlier now. So, they chose to give it to mills at higher prices rather than distributing as seeds. This may be happening with soyabean too,” he said.
On being asked about the exorbitant prices of the seeds, he said, “The regulatory mechanism has completely failed. National Seed Corporation can produce one quintal of soyabean seeds at Rs 7,100 per quintal. After subsidy, it is sold at Rs 5,500 per quintal. So, if a government concern can produce it at this rate, I fail to understand why they are being sold at Rs 10,000 per quintal.”