The Financial Express

Quality cereal seeds required for sustainable farming

| Updated: September 19, 2020 22:19:28

Quality cereal seeds required for sustainable farming

Yield gap is higher for most of the crops produced in Bangladesh whereas the country needs to increase cereal production in order to attain national food security. This has been an issue of sustainable development. Among cereal crops, rice is the staple food which contributes calorie intake for over 65 per cent of the people.

However, inadequate supply of quality cereal seeds is a key reason for lower yield. The country can increase crop yields by 15-20 per cent, by ensuring use of quality seeds if other factors of production remain constant. Good quality seed can immediately increase rice yield by 8-10 per cent, according to farmers' participatory experiments carried out in the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Currently, less than 50 per cent (46 per cent) farmers can use quality seeds and the rest cannot avoid use of poor quality seeds. Public and private organisations supply 60 per cent of the total requirement of quality cereal seeds of rice, wheat and maize (Figure.1). The rest is produced traditionally by farmers, and those seeds are considered informal ones and not up to the required standard.

Seed supplied by the state-run Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC), the private sector and NGOs are considered formal seeds. The BADC and private players receive 'Breeder Seed' from agricultural research institutes and produce foundation seeds from the 'Breeder Seed' in its seed multiplication farm and 'Certified Seed' from the 'Foundation Seed' in contract growers' fields following certification procedure.

A portion of formal seeds such as hybrid seeds of rice and maize is imported by private seed companies. Farmers themselves produce 'informal seeds' by preserving a portion of their produce as seed and use it traditionally for subsequent crop production. National seed strategy systems should find the ways to strengthen informal seed system for sustainable seed supply in the country.

Cultivable land under three major cereal crops - rice, wheat, and maize - was 12.1 million hectares and cropping intensity was 215 per cent in 2017-18. Intensive rice cultivation is dominant in crop production systems and in boro season, 75 per cent of the area is covered by high-yielding varieties (HYV) and 21 per cent by hybrid rice varieties. In the aman season, about 73 per cent area is used for HYV and 27 per cent for local varieties. Wheat covers 370,000 hectares. Maize cultivation area is increasing and it has become an important cereal in terms of yield.

To produce the three crops in the aforesaid land areas, around 333,120 tonnes of cereal seeds is required whereas there is only 201,794 tonnes of supply of quality seeds at present. Hybrid rice seed accounts for around 3.5 per cent of the total seed requirement.

Bangladesh' population will further increase to 186 mllion and 202 million (Table 1) by 2030 and 2050, respectively, according to a UN projection. If the total cultivable land remains more or less static, Bangladesh will have to feed 182.3 million people by 2025. In such context, long-term planning for food security is essential. Any failure of the government to ensure supply of quality cereal seeds will result in lower productivity, and poor economic growth.

Currently, the BADC is supplying 33 per cent of the required cereal seeds of rice, wheat and maize. The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) started producing seeds under a project although the produced seeds are kept in farmers' house; hence there is no control of the government over the seeds. Rice seeds supplied by the private sector are not significant in terms of quantity but supply of maize seed is higher in proportion to demand. The private sector has increased availability of seeds to commercial farmers, but their implications for quality seeds and ability to meet seed requirement of small farmers remain uncertain. It is an urgent need to balance responsibilities between public and private sectors so that the need for quality cereal seed is fulfilled with reasonable price level.

Farm productivity will not increase even if poor quality seeds are replaced by quality seeds. Since quality of seeds saved by farmers is poor, availability of quality seed will not only improve seed replacement rate but also help saving of seeds by using lower rate of seed per unit area. Once farmers get seeds of a high yielding variety from seed organisations, they cultivate it, produce seed and store it for reuse in the next season. Most of them rarely come for replacement of the seed stock until the yield potential of that cultivar declines remarkably.

There are a number of causes of inadequate supply of quality seeds, as follows:

- Despite increasing demand of quality seed, infrastructure and technical manpower in the public sector have not been enhanced as expected. Presently, manpower at BADC seed wing is half the sanctioned posts;

- Required quantity of Breeder Seeds of desired varieties are not obtained from research institutes. Without sufficient quantity of Breeder Seeds of desired varieties, seed multiplication programme cannot be undertaken;

- There is a lack of accurate statistics on cultivable land under different crops and marketed seeds by the private sector;

- Seed demand assessment or forecasting mechanism is not in place;

- Seed price is generally unaffordable to farmers;

- Contract growers don't get their seed price in time. They usually get seed price a year after seed received by BADC but are not paid at the current year's market price that makes them reluctant to seed production;

- The Seed Certification Agency (SCA) has the regulatory functions to control seed quality but due to less capacity it can't carry out functions duly;

- There is no appropriate seed production and marketing plan.

In this context, a few way-outs from the problem may be recommended.

STRENGTHENING BADC AND SCA: In the seed policy it is mentioned that the BADC will concentrate primarily on producing foundation seeds of rice, wheat, jute, and potato on its own farms. The BADC will use farmers to multiply seeds on contract basis and will gradually grow certified seed on its own seed farms. In the 7th Five-Year Plan it was mentioned that the BADC will be further strengthened in order to ensure production of quality seed at all stages of its production-breeder, foundation and certified seed and encourage farmers to produce quality seed and farmer-to-farmer seed exchange. It is currently providing around 33 per cent of the total required quality cereal seed. Cereal seed supply is mainly constraint by seed processing and preservation facilities. Without expanding seed processing, preservation and marketing networks, it will not be possible to meet increased demand of quality cereal seeds. Seed quality monitoring and regulatory activities of SCA will also be expanded by strengthening SCA.

FACILITATING PRIVATE SEED SECTOR: In the open market economy, the private sector should come up with quality seed. In views of its very limited seed processing and preservation facilities, the seed policy has emphasised using facilities of the BADC with a view to increasing quality seed supply. For this, the BADC's role will be reoriented to promote development of the private sector seed industry by advising and training private seed producers. The option of facilitating private seed sector and strengthening the BADC and the SCA is interrelated. The private sector seed men will be granted access to storage space, drying/sunning floor, dryers, cleaning and other related equipment and facilities that are in excess of the BADC seed wing. Favourable policies, concessions, incentives and support will be provided to promote private sector participation in the seed industry.

SUBSIDY OR MORE BUDGET ALLOCATION: Despite its great contribution to the Bangladesh economy, our agriculture is vulnerable and unpredictable. Frequent natural calamities including pest and diseases, increasing labouur cost, uncertainty in getting fair prices of farm produce, and unavailability of quality seeds of desired varieties are making our farmers less interested in crop farming. In many cases farmers purchase quality seeds by selling their produce. If the market price of their produce is low, they are compelled to use low quality seed. So it is essential to reduce seed price to help the resource poor farmers use quality seeds and maintain higher agricultural productivity. They should be given subsidy from the budget.

UPDATING STATISTICS ON ARABLE LAND AND SEED: Realistic statistics is the base of any planning process. We mostly depend on the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and Agriculture Information Service (AIS) at the DAE but there are discrepancies in statistics. Development of national farmers' database has been emphasised in the 7th FYP. Even at the BADC there is no cell or committee to update data on land use and seed. Updated database with software will help stakeholders to make seed-related plans and carry out required activities.

SEED PRODUCTION AND MARKETING PLAN: There is no long, medium, short term planning for seed production in the country. On the basis of recommendations from the seed promotion committee, seed production programme is taken by the BADC. There are no study on how much seed is required and how much seed will be produced by the DAE and the private sector. Sometimes it is found that seed remains unsold and sometimes there is a huge crisis.

MODERNISING SEED MARKETING WITH JUDICIOUS PRICING OF SEED: In terms of seed marketing system, the BADC is outdated. Seed allotment is done based on the DAE demand while packaging is primitive. Procedures for recruitment of seed dealers are not followed accordingly. Incentives for seed dealers are not attractive. Seed buying procedure is not friendly, rather troublesome. If seed remains unsold at the dealers shop, there is no provision for taking it back. Seed pricing is injudicious. There is hardly any scope for taking quick decision by concerned officials for allotment of seed in the shortest possible time. The private sector can be prompt in this area. Therefore, seed marketing system should be modernised with judicious seed pricing.

AMENDMENT OF SEED POLICY AND APPLICATION OF SEED LAW: The National Seed Policy has given guidelines and directions for increasing production of quality seed, but many of those are unattended still. The seed wing of BADC and the SCA have not been strengthened. The NGOs and private enterprises cannot yet utilise processing and storage facilities of BADC during the peak season because the BADC itself is plagued with shortage of facilities. Monitoring, quality control and regulatory system have not been improved. There is no indication at policy level if any farmers are cheated using bad quality seed from any producers and farmers have no scope to get compensation. Monitoring mechanism for seed quality should be incorporated into the seed rules. For those reasons amendment to the seed policy is required and stringent application of seed law to be done.

CONCLUSIONS: Availability of quality cereal seed boosts food production but policy focus should be made on getting higher output with minimum input. Almost all hybrid maize and hybrid rice seeds are being imported by the private sector since there is hardly any good variety developed by local scientists. However, we don't need to import any seed of other cereal crops. Production and supply of quality seeds should not be totally left to the private sector. They can be given responsibility for specific quantity of the total required seed with certain conditions. Policy support is needed to make available quality cereal seed at affordable price and in time.


Dr. Md. Shafayet Hossain is a Deputy Director at BADC, Dhaka.

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