Amid the growing rift between those who support genetically modified food and their opponents, the scientific community is under tremendous pressure to bring out better seeds for higher yields from ever shrinking acreage under cultivation.

While one group has opposed GM food for their long-term impact on human health and their possibly disastrous consequences for local varieties developed over centuries of experiments, supporters of GM food point out that there is no other alternative to meeting the country’s growing food requirements.

Opposed to GM food

As of now, the State government has explicitly stated its opposition to GM food and is bracing up to prevent it permeating the Kerala farm scene.

An ambitious venture launched by the Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK) seeks to bridge this gap through production and propagation of high-yielding varieties of seeds, developed by the Kerala Agriculture University to suit the agro-climatic conditions of Kerala.

As of now, the Council’s seed processing plant at Alathur, in Palakkad, meets about 70 per cent of the seeds requirements of government-sponsored farm programmes in the State.

Seeds are sourced primarily for programmes promoted by local self-government bodies and the State Department of Agriculture.

More benefits

A spokesman for the VFPCK said that the high yielding varieties of vegetable seeds from VFPCK score over higher yielding hybrids on three counts: They are Kerala’s specific varieties unlike hybrids which may not be suitable to the topography of the State; the cost of these seeds are nominal when compared to hybrids and the seeds can be used in subsequent generations.

Changing mindsets

The traditional mindset of Kerala farmers has prevented them from taking up to the new seeds, said the spokesman when he compared them to their counterparts in states like Tamil Nadu.

“The average farmer in Kerala sticks to home-saved seeds,” he said.

The VFPCK has striven to get the Kerala farmers out of this mindset over the last 13 years, he added.

The high-yielding varieties of seeds are being commercially grown by 104 trained seed growers in Palakkad. These seeds are processed and tested before distribution.

Since its inception in 1996, the Alathur unit has been able to supply more than 200 tonnes of seeds through its district outlets.

50 tonnes sold

VFPCK sold more than 50 tonnes of seeds during last year, more than 10 tonnes of the seeds having been sourced from the National Seeds Corporation to complement its own production of 38 tonnes.

This year the Council expects to produce 40 tonnes of seeds.

However, dissemination of information is what has held back the possible large-scale migration of farmers from their traditionally obtained seeds to the high-yielding varieties, the VFPCK spokesman added.