Agri Business

‘Give states the power to fix seed prices, royalties’

K V Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on October 07, 2019 Published on October 07, 2019

The seeds regime should protect farmers’ interests, says Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture

The Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) has called for a seed regime that would protect the farmer’s right to breed, select, save, use, exchange, distribute and sell seeds. The regime should also encourage agro-diversity to ensure sustainable agriculture and resilience to climate change stresses.

Referring to reports on the proposed amendments to the Seed Bill, which is pending in Parliament, it said states should have the powers to regulate and fix the price of the seed and the royalty component.

“Regulation of the quality of seed will no longer be enough to protect farmers’ interests, unless seed prices are also regulated. The statute should ensure the timely availability of appropriate, adequate and diverse varieties of seeds at affordable rates,” it said.

ASHA, an umbrella organisation of scientists and associations working in the sustainable agriculture space, said the proposed amendments to the Seed Bill should protect and uphold farmers’ rights to seeds, and ensure that they are not exploited as seed consumers.

In a letter to Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, the association asked the Government to safeguard the nation’s unfettered control over something so vital for self-reliance in agriculture.

“One of the important components of any regulation should be seed price control, since the sector attracts many players for the profit-making opportunities it presents, whereas the seed is an ‘Essential Commodity’ and should be treated as such,” they said.

Essential Commodity

The Seeds Bill acquires new importance and criticality in the context of a demand for repeal or amendments to the Essential Commodities Act (its agriculture related provisions) gaining strength. All the empowering provisions of the Essential Commodities Act’s Seeds Control Order 1983, being used by governments to protect the interests of farmers, should, therefore, be reflected in any proposed Seeds Bill, it felt.

The alliance said states should be vested with the power to fix the seed price and royalty component. “The ongoing battle between various state governments with Bt cotton seed companies showcases the need for such an authority to be incorporated into this proposed legislation. Royalties should not exceed 5 per cent of the retail price. It should also ensure fair returns to seed-producing farmers,” it suggested.

If the Seeds Bill comes into force, the Seeds Control Order of 1983 will become obsolete. “So, it is important to incorporate all the powers that State governments have under the Order into the proposed Seeds Bill, including the ‘Power to Distribute Seed’ (compulsory licensing),” it said.

The states should also be empowered to register seeds that are locally suitable and appropriate, in addition to the national registry. Authorisation of all seed production, processing, storage, distribution and sale should be with the state governments through a compulsory licensing system.

The alliance is opposed to the proposed registration system as envisaged in the current version of the Bill, which is “confusing with the term registration used for seed developer as well as seller.”

It wants the Bill to mandate that the seed firms make the registration details public. The details should include geographical location, seed passport data and the results of local agronomic trials in different growing conditions. The seeds registered should be sent to the NBPGR (National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources) for retention in the National Gene Bank.

Penalties

ASHA said the ‘Offences and Penalties’ section needs to ensure that penalties are effective as deterrents, and that farmers are paid compensation in case of failure of performance against the claims made. “The present provisions in the bill are inadequate,” it felt.

It called for setting up compensation committees at the district level, in order to make them accessible to farmers.

“The compensation claim should be resolved within 30 days of filing the claim and the farmer should be paid within three months of the award of compensation,” it pointed out.

Published on October 07, 2019
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