Is the new seeds Bill titled against farmers’ interests and is in favour of seed companies ? Discuss.

Published: December 7, 2019

The seed bill 2019 has had two earlier versions in 2004 and 2010, which have been more or less the same. As per the government, a new seeds bill has been introduced to enhance seed replacement rates, specify standards for registration of seed varieties and enforce registration from seed producers to seed retailers. 

However, such goals need to be aligned with the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001.  Take for example the shift from farm saved seeds to certified seeds, would help raise seed replacement rates is necessary. Certified seeds have higher and stable yields than farm saved ones. Such replacement needs to be done by creating an enabling atmosphere and not policing which is prefered by Private seed companies by forcing farmers to buy their seeds.  

The Indian policy has encouraged the growth of private companies, including foreign players, which constitute around 50% of the market. Such firms demand changes in seeds laws and restriction on the use of previous saved seeds by farmers. Various versions of the seeds bill between 2004 and 2019 has been guided by the private sector interests have guided the formulation of the Seeds Bill.  Many provisions of the bill are against farmer’s interests and are in favour of private seed companies. 

Provisions include – 

  • First, the bill insists on compulsory registration of seeds whereas the PPVFR Act was based on voluntary registration. So when a seed variety is developed by the breeder which has been derived from a traditional variety, the breeder will get exclusive marketing rights but no gain accrues to the farmer as benefit-sharing is dealt with in the PPVFR Act, under which the seed has not been registered.
  • The second provision as per the PPVFR Act, is that all applications for registrations should contain complete data of the parental lines from which the seed variety has been derived including contributions made by the farmers. It allows for an easier identification of beneficiaries and simpler benefit-sharing processes. Whereas the Seeds Bill, on the other hand, does not demand any information while registering a new variety. Thus an important method of recording the contributions of farmers is overlooked and private companies can claim that variety as their own.
  • The PPVFR Act does not allow re-registration of seeds after the validity period. Whereas as per provisions of the Seeds Bill says that private seed companies can re-register their seeds an infinite number of times after the validity period. This gives rise to the ever-greening provision.
  • The provision for regulation of seed prices is neither sufficient nor credible. A strict control on seed prices has been an important demand by farmer organisations.In its absence the seed companies can fix seed prices as they deem fit, leading to sharp rises in costs of cultivation.

Way ahead

Given the growing clout of the private sector and technological advances towards hybrid, a progressive seed laws is a weak defence. The need is to have a strong agricultural research system to ensure one has a choice between hybrids and farm saved seeds. Even if hybrids are appropriate, the seed prices need to be kept affordable and farmer friendly.

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