The Indian seed sector lost one of its biggest export markets when the governments of India and Pakistan suspended trade relations between the two countries. The political climate hasn’t been the most favourable in recent times, but this New Year is an opportunity to separate politics and economics for the benefit of farmers on both sides of the border.

India loses more from the trade embargo. Pakistan has been our third top destination for fruit and vegetable seeds for many years. In 2018-19, India exported fruit and vegetable seeds worth $17,528,530 and in 2017-18 that number was $14,160,248. It is a $3 million increase from the previous year, and perhaps wealth generated from the trade would have grown as Indian seeds are very popular in Pakistan because of similar agro-climatic conditions, quality and unmatched culinary value.

Export avenues

Remember, this wealth is generated only from the trade of fruit and vegetable seeds. What about other seeds such as cotton, cereal etc? Germplasm and plants care little for borders but they do care more for favourable soil, climate and water. As a result, North India supplied a lion’s share of all types of seeds to Pakistan. They included paddy, wheat, legumes, cotton, etc. Indian varieties do very well in Pakistan because over time, they have adapted to similar cultivation patterns, monsoon and soils.

The Indo-Pak seed trade was in the range of Rs 1,300-1,500 crore a year. The industry estimated the trade going up to Rs 2,000 crore in the coming years. That is Rs 2,000 crore pumped straight into the pockets of farmers and seed breeders. The prosperity it brings across the borders can be a great example of Indo-Pak partnership. But by banning seed exports, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Apart from the export seed stock losses on the Indian side, the Pakistani side experienced disruption of steady seed supply, generating a large gap.

India's loss, China's gain

But the vacuum created by this ban is being used by Chinese seed companies to expand in Pakistan. While the Indian farmers and seed sector are losing millions of dollars, the Chinese seed sector is now growing and has access to Pakistani germplasm, which may, in the future, be detrimental to the interests of the Indian seed sector. The Pakistani and Chinese governments are already working to develop a hybrid variety of ‘basmati’ rice. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in a recent statement prioritised agriculture and wanted deeper cooperation with China.

Although the Chinese seeds don’t match up to the Indian varieties in their culinary value, it’s only a matter of time before economics and high yields exhaust the demand for Indian seeds.

Business as usual

Meanwhile, India is supplying medicines to Pakistan on humanitarian grounds as they are essential commodities. Why should seeds be any different? The Indian Essential Commodities Act defines some seeds as essential. India can also become a seed testing and quality hub for Pakistani seeds as we have the best infrastructure within the SAARC countries.

This is another avenue through which jobs can be generated in the agriculture sector as Indian scientists and technicians will be employed to assist Pakistan in their quality assessment. Currently, Indian certified seeds are valued in Pakistan and other neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan and Nepal. We can strive to create a robust system of trade, unaffected by politics, in both countries.

(Program Director – Policy and Outreach for the National Seed Association of India)