Since the last week of June, farmers from various parts of Maharashtra have complained of germination failure of soyabean seeds. Farmer leaders were quick to blame the “inferior quality” of seeds for their loss while the state Agriculture department said a combination of early sowing, low soil moisture and inferior quality of seeds was to be blamed. Partha Sarathi Biswas takes a look at what went wrong, and the way ahead for state farmers
What is the problem and which areas has it been reported from?
After cotton, soyabean is the most grown crop in Maharashtra, and the oilseed is sown on over 38 lakh hectares. Soyabean is grown across the state, but over 90 per cent of it is done in the arid and drought-prone areas of Marathwada and Vidarbha. The districts of Latur and Akola are important centres for the oilseed, with Latur reporting the second highest area under cultivation in India after Indore.
In the sugarcane growing areas of western Maharashtra, soyabean is a popular intercrop between two rows of the growing cane crop. Farmers start preparing the land in May and sowing operations are usually undertaken till the second week of July. The crop is harvested post October, with the oilseed marketing year lasting from November to October of the next year.
This year, farmers in Maharashtra had accelerated their sowing operations, as ample labour was available due to the reverse migration from urban centres amid the pandemic. The timely arrival of the monsoon had also helped them speed up their operations. The state reported sowing of over 60.56 lakh hectares of area till June 22, compared to only 39,176 hectares last year.
But early sowing failed to bring any cheer as farmers from various parts of the state started complaining of germination failure in their fields. According to data compiled by the state Agriculture Commissionerate, most such reports have come from the districts of Pune, Ahmednagar, Latur, Beed, Yavatmal and Nanded, while Parbhani, Akola, Jalna and other areas have also reported the problem, but across smaller areas.
Till date, more than 23,000 complaints have been registered in the state, with maximum complains coming from Beed, Latur, Yavatmal and Nanded.
What is the process of seed production in soyabean?
Unlike genetically modified cotton, soyabean is an open pollination crop which allows farmers to reuse the seeds they harvest from their crop. On an average, India requires 12 lakh tonnes (lt) of soyabean seeds, with Maharashtra cornering about 40 per cent of the total amount. Both private and public sector companies produce soyabean seeds, with the balance tilting heavily (65-70 per cent) towards private companies.
Seed companies release both certified as well as truthful varieties in the market. While the former is certified by certifying agencies, the latter only holds a quality assurance by the producer. Usually, certified seeds are supposed to be superior in quality than truthful ones. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are major-seed producing hubs for oilseed in the country.
Seed companies start their work for seed preparation, which involves procurement of seeds either from the farmers or growing them on their own plots, well before the season. Treatment of the seed with bio-fertilsers, insecticides etc is followed by the certification process. During this process, germination tests are carried out, and seeds which fail to produce 70 per cent yield and more germination, are rejected. Seed companies pay farmers well over the market price to procure their produce for seed production.
The state Agriculture department had, in fact, issued directives to farmers to use their stored seeds this season, given the shortfall expected in seeds this season.
What caused the seed failure in soyabean crop this year?
Right from the beginning of the oil marketing season last November, concerns had surfaced about the quality of soyabean seeds. Unseasonal rain in October and November had affected the quality of the seed, which had put a question mark over seed availability and quality for the current season. In view of concerns over quality, the central government had tweaked its germination criterion from 70 to 60 per cent, for seeds to be certified.
The lockdown from March had also put brakes on the seed production and certification process, both in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Seed companies had complained of labour trouble as well as problems in conducting germination tests, which has seen a reduction in percentage of certified seeds hitting the market.
While seed quality remained a concern, the present spate of seed failure also has strong links to sowing practices as well as agro-climatic conditions towards the second half of June. State agricultural universities have recommended undertaking sowing operations only after 80-100 mm of rain is received. It is recommended that seeds should be sown at about 2-5 cm below ground and deep sowing should be avoided.
However, even after the monsoon had hit the state at the right time this year, many areas failed to receive enough rainfall to have the required soil moisture for germination of the oilseed. Agricultural officers have pointed out how, in parts of Marathwada, farmers had sown the seed as deep as 8-10 cms below the ground. “In both cases, seeds failed to germinate,” said an officer.
How has the state Agriculture department responded to this problem?
On an average, farmers require a 30-kg bag of seed, priced at Rs 2,100, for sowing oilseed over an acre of their land. Rrequirement of new seeds would be an added cost to the already capital-starved farmers in the state. The state Agriculture department has started its survey in the matter. In some cases, the seed companies have started the work of seed replacement although farmers have said this will not cover the cost of labour required for repeat sowing. The state Agriculture department has claimed that only abut 10-15 per cent of the farmers have faced problems of seed failure.
The matter took a serious turn when a two-judge Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court took sou moto notice of the matter and decided to step in. In a landmark decision, the High Court directed the Agriculture department to produce details like complaints filed and action taken. The High Court has also directed farmers to approach the police to file complaints against seed vendors and seed companies whose seeds have failed to germinate.
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