More than half of all seeds sold in India are not certified by any proper testing agency, and are often of poor quality.
The Centre now hopes to mandate uniform certification by pushing through a replacement to the Seeds Act, 1966, in the winter session of Parliament, and also by barcoding all seeds to ensure their traceability.
This could increase overall agricultural productivity by up to 25%, Agriculture Ministry officials say.
“The existing legislation that was enacted over half a century ago needs to be revised urgently. Technology has changed, farmers’ expectations have changed, even the very definition of what is a seed has changed. Planting materials such as cuttings, grafting and tissue culture — all that must also be brought under the ambit of the law,” said a senior official, who did not wish to be named.
The main aim of the new legislation, which is ready for submission to the Cabinet for approval, is to bring uniformity to the process of quality regulation. The 1966 Act starts with these words: “An Act to provide for regulating the quality of certain seeds for sale...” The new Bill removes the word “certain”, and aims to regulate the quality of all seeds sold in the country, as well as exported and imported seeds.
“Currently, about 30% of seeds are what the farmer himself saves from his crop. He may re-plant that or sell it locally,” said another senior official. He explained that of the remaining seeds which are bought and sold commercially, 45% come through the ICAR system and have gone through the mandated certification process.
“The other 55% are sold by private companies, most of which are not certified, but rather what we call ‘truthful label seeds’. That is, they are simply self-certified by the company. We want to remove that category with the new law and mandate certification through a proper lab process for all seeds,” he said.
“Truthful label seeds can be disastrous from the farmers’ point of view, and should be removed,” says Devinder Sharma, an agriculture and food policy expert. He has been engaging with the revised seeds legislation since it was originally proposed in 2004.
“The Bill has been pending for so long, but it is important that companies be held accountable for the quality of the seeds they sell, and the claims they make. If a seed fails at the germination, flowering or seed-setting process, the company which sold it must be held liable and made to provide compensation,” he said.
The new Bill will also raise the stakes by increasing penalties for non-compliance. “Currently, the fine ranges from ₹500 to ₹5,000. We intend to raise that to [a maximum of] ₹5 lakh,” said the second official.
The Centre also hopes to roll out a software to barcode seeds in order to ensure transparency and traceability. “The National Informatics Centre has been collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry for this ₹5 crore project and the first prototype will be ready by the end of the month. If we can use this to weed out poor quality seeds sold by some fly-by-night operators, it could increase productivity by 20 to 25%,” said the official. “We are in discussion with state governments to begin rolling out in two to three months. About 5,000 private seed companies have agreed to come on board if we can assure them that data on their seeds is not shared with their competitors.”
The software system will be able to track seeds through the testing, certification and manufacturing process. By connecting to a dealer licensing system, seeds will be tracked through the distribution process as well. “Once it is all in place in about two years or so, we will even be able to say how much of which seed is sold in which area,” said the senior official.