SEEDS The Budget has announced a 150 per cent weighted average rebate on seed research and development. The measures # The finance minister has announced a 150 per cent weighted average rebate on research and development (R&D) of seeds. The context # Seeds are a key input and determines crop productivity, and improved seed quality alone can contribute about 25 per cent to the yield. Seed characteristics such as germination, high seedling vigour, and genetic purity are as important as other inputs. Thus, while fertilisers and water are important, the crucial input for increasing productivity are superior quality seeds. The impact # R K Sinha, executive director, All India Crop Biotech Association (AICBA) , the association of Indian agriculture biotech companies, said, "This is a welcome move.' Unfortunately, the FM has not granted infrastructure status to the seed industry which would have encouraged investments in the modernisation of seed processing plants, seed treatment and development facilities, godowns for storage, as well as transport and distribution. This, along with the creation of a dedicated Seed and Technology Development Fund, could have given clear signals to global and domestic industry to invest in agriculture. The industry hopes that during the year the government will "grant infrastructure status to the seed industry' and set up a "dedicated Seed Technology and Development Fund' for the long-term benefit of the farmer, industry, and economy.

AGRICULTURE: Growth declines to 2.6% in 2007-08 from 3.8% last year. Presenting a grim picture of agriculture, the Economic Survey projects a decline in the growth of the sector in 2007-08 to 2.6 per cent compared with 3.8 per cent last year. It attributes the poor performance to reduced capital investment and plateauing of yields of major crops, besides the weather-induced productivity fluctuations. The survey also expresses concern over the slowdown in the creation of irrigation potential, degradation of natural resources, and collapse of the farm extension system, which together contributed to below-potential crop yields. It points out that the public investment in agriculture has declined and the sector has not been able to attract private investment because of lower and unattractive returns. The share of agriculture in the total gross capital formation (GCF) has dropped steadily from 10.2 per cent in 2001-02 to 5.8 per cent in 2005-06. However, the share of the GCF in agriculture in relation to the agriculture sector's gross domestic product (GDP) has shown marginal improvement from 11.1 per cent to 12.5 per cent during this period. The overall share of agriculture in the country's GDP, which used to be as high as 36.4 per cent in 1982-83, has dropped to nearly half of that and is reckoned at 18.5 per cent in 2006-07. Referring to the foodgrains production, the survey points out that though in the longer period (1950-51 to 2006-07) the average annual growth rate in foodgrains output works out to 2.5 per cent that is higher than the population growth of 2.1 per cent, but the situation has deteriorated after 1990-91. The growth rate between 1990 and 2007 works out to only 1.2 per cent, falling below the population growth of 1.9 per cent during the period. This has resulted in a decline in the per capita availability of cereals and pulses. "The per capita consumption of cereals declined from a peak of 468 grams per capita per day in 1990-91 to 412 grams in 2005-06, indicating a decline of 13 per cent during this period. The consumption of pulses declined from 42 grams per capita per day (72 grams in 1956-57) to 33 grams during the same period,' the survey states. The pace of creation of additional irrigation potential came down sharply from an average of about 3 per cent a year between 1950-51 and 1989-90 to 1.2 per cent in the Eighth Plan, 1.7 per cent in the Ninth plan and 1.8 per cent in the Tenth Plan. The survey also concedes that the new initiatives taken in the Tenth Plan for extending irrigation potential have had a limited success. While the creation of new potential remained confined to around 8 million hectares, its actual utilisation was even lower, only about one-fourths of it. The survey has stressed the need for a second green revolution, particularly in the rainfed areas, to improve the incomes of more than half of the country's workforce employed in this sector. "Acceleration of growth of this sector will not only push the overall GDP growth upwards, it would also make the growth more inclusive and biased in favour of women,' it maintains.

The NSC has transformed itself from the usual non-profit-earning PSU into a vibrant entity. Private sector seed companies have, till now, had a virtual monopoly over the production and sale of seeds, mostly hybrid seeds, of high-value crops. This was chiefly because the public sector seed producers, besides being fewer in number, remained focused right from the beginning on the production of seeds of low-value but high-volume crops (basically cereals), where profits were low though the quantities to be handled were large. Besides, public sector units (PSUs) made little attempt to keep pace with time. However, the much-needed change in the public seed sector is coming about now with the largest player, the National Seeds Corporation (NSC), adopting a corporate culture and deploying state-of-the-art technology to produce seeds even of high-value crops and hybrids. Indeed, as could be expected, this change in the work culture has transformed the NSC from the usual non-profit-earning PSU into a vibrant entity striving to find a place among the mini-Ratnas, if not the Navratnas. The headquarters of the NSC and four of its regional units in Bhopal, Jaipur, Secunderabad and Bangalore, have already acquired the ISO 9001-2000 certificate and the remaining regional units are in the process of doing so. No wonder then that, after a gap of 32 years, the NSC paid a 5 per cent dividend, amounting to a little over Rs 1 crore, to the government in November last. This was made possible by a massive 46 per cent growth in business in the past one year alone. Its post-tax profits jumped by a whopping 200 per cent in 2006-07. Indeed, the man behind this incredible transformation is the present chairman and managing director B B Pattanaik. "I would be able to declare a much higher dividend for the current year,' asserts an enthusiastic Pattanaik. He has not only motivated the aging employees of this 45-year-old corporation for better performance but has also taken several new initiatives to be in a position to rub shoulders with the well-run private sector seed companies, many of which now have business tie-ups with the NSC. "I am not interested in increasing competition with the corporate houses; I am more for partnerships,' says Pattanaik. About a dozen big houses, including some multinational companies like Monsanto and Cargill and domestic players like ITC, ECL Agro-Tech and Sheel Biotech, have forged strategic business alliances with the NSC. Most of these companies use the vast marketing network of the NSC for the sale of their seeds and other farm inputs. The Indian Oil Corporation, on the other hand, sells the NSC seeds through its network of Kisan Seva Kendras (farmers' service centres). Significantly, the NSC is now very much into the production of hybrid seeds, organic seeds and even tissue culture plantlets. It is multiplying the seeds of mustard hybrid DMH-1-DHARA evolved through biotechnological interventions by the Delhi University; as also those of the pigeon pea (arhar) hybrid, ICPH 2671, evolved by the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Besides, the NSC would soon begin supplying gladiolus bulbs for flower cultivation. The NSC's tissue culture unit with a capacity to churn out annually about two lakh test tube-raised plantlets for propagation of the banana is coming up in Bhubaneswar and may become operational by the next month. For research and development back-up, the NSC gets support from the vast agricultural research network of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the state agriculture universities. This helps the NSC to add, on an average, around 20 new varieties and hybrids to its product range every year. Significantly, the NSC is now playing a catalytic role in the expansion of seed production, processing and storage infrastructure in the private sector under a government scheme involving 25 per cent subsidy for this purpose. About 120 projects for the creation of seed processing capacity worth 23 lakh quintals and seed storage capacity of 9 lakh quintals have already been approved. A total subsidy of Rs 6.94 crore would be paid to the private sector companies which are creating these facilities. For involving more and more farmers in the relatively more lucrative seed production business, the NSC is facilitating the provision of loans to them from the State Bank of India. Besides, it is ploughing back about 2 per cent of its own profits into the activities related to seed production by farmers and other measures as part of its corporate social responsibility initiative.

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