The ongoing nationwide lockdown in the wake of spread of COVID-19 has affected the seed industry, with insiders maintaining that availability of quality seeds was going to be a challenge for farmers for the upcoming kharif season. Dr Ram Kaundniya, director general of Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), said timely availability of seeds of cotton and maize would be a major concern for the country in the months to come.
The lockdown has come at a time when the Rs 18,000-crore seed industry had started preparing for the upcoming kharif season. Seed companies enter into contracts with small or medium holding farmers who grow specific hybrid seeds for them. In case of cotton, flowers are manually pollinated. After seeds are formed, they are sent to factories for further processing and packing.
“Cotton growers from North India start their planting early and for that seed packets should reach their districts by April 15. Around 300 tonne or 90 lakh packets of seeds are required for North India, but this lockdown has put a question on the transportation of seeds,” Kaundniya said. While all work related to seed manufacturing and transportation have been deemed as essential services and so are exempted from the lockdown, labour and transport pains have brought the work in seed plants to a grinding halt.
Seed manufacturers said their factories are facing severe shortage of workers as villages are not allowing entry of labourers from outside. They also said truck drivers were reluctant to travel long distance due to closure of roadside eateries and uncertainty about their meals. “District collectors have been issuing special passes for workers and drivers… However given the unprecedented nature of the situation, things are a bit slow,” said Kaundniya.
In case of cotton, the new MRP was declared only on March 23, which delayed the process of printing of labels and sticking them on seed packets.
Production of maize seeds has also been affected, Kaundniya said, adding that production has stopped in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Farmers in these states pick the corncob and send the same to seed manufacturing facilities in Hyderabad for drying. “…This supply chain is broken, which has resulted in cobs deteriorating in quality,” he said. India’s annual requirement for maize seed is around 1 lakh tonne, but the present condition has raised serious concerns over the quality of seeds.
The disruption of port services and suspension of flights have also halted the import of vegetable seeds like cabbage, cauliflower and red chillies. While the quantity of seeds was likely to be low, the supply constriction might also impact their supplies in near future. “Unfortunately, this comes at a time when vegetable acreage is set to grow, with more people shifting towards vegetarian diet,” he said.
Kaundniya said the ongoing lockdown has affected work in most seed-producing states, including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Industry estimates suggest that of the Rs 18,000-crore seed industry, cotton accounts for around Rs 4,000 crore while maize and vegetable seeds are valued at Rs 2,500 crore and Rs 5,000 crore, respectively.
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