New Delhi: In a bid to help farmers beat the vagaries of weather, a leading plant breeding company has been developing and testing a series of varieties and hybrids of short duration crops such as rice, mustard, corn, millets, pulses and vegetables.
The company, Nuziveedu Seeds Limited (NSL) — which is among the oldest seed companies in India and also a market leader in different crops — is actively pursuing R&D across various crops of importance to farmers.
While the company has been the largest Bt Cotton seed company in India — the only GM crop cultivated in the country, its focus is on addressing the key challenges plaguing Indian agriculture like drought, pests and diseases, nutrient-use efficiency, low productivity and the like, through a combination of conventional plant breeding and modern biotechnologies using non-GM or transgenic strategies.
One of the key research themes at NSL is R&D on short duration and drought-tolerant crops to provide farmers sustainable income, said a top company official.
“The research into short-duration and drought-resistant crops will go a long way towards contributing to food security and ensuring a steady income for the farmer as these crops enable effective utilisation of land resources,” M. Prabhakar Rao, Chairman and Managing Director of Hyderabad-based Nuziveedu Seeds Limited (NSL), told IANS.
The short duration/early maturity crops on which NSL has breeding programmes and products which are marketed in many states of the country also include fodder crops like Sorghum, Sudan grass and fodder maize, apart from the regular rice, wheat, corn, bajra, jowar, blackgram, sunflower, okra, cucumber and watermelon.
“NSL is currently doing research in 30 crops, including crops that are grown in drylands and drought conditions. These crops also act as catch crops between two seasons, and early duration varieties in cotton and rice can help in taking a second crop thereby adding substantially to farmers’ incomes,” Rao said.
He further explained: “We also work on 100 to 110-day short duration rice varieties as per market requirements and cropping pattern, i.e choice of crop for the entire year is the key for sustainable farm incomes.”
As a rule, all varieties before commercialisation go through a period of two-year product evaluation in the form of multi-location trials conducted across different states to identify product-suitability in agro-climatic zones.
“The testimony to the success of research is the wide acceptance of these products across different markets,” Rao said.
Besides such in-house trials, the company’s products are also tested on farmers’ fields as well as in trials conducted by state agriculture universities and ICAR trials to ensure that right products only reach farmers.
Founded as a small partnership firm in 1973 in Andhra Pradesh with breeding programmes in cotton, NSL subsequently developed elaborate R&D and plant breeding programmes in about 30 other crops. Each of NSL’s improved varieties and hybrids is an outcome of 7-8 years of research, evaluation and product development effort.
Asked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to double farmers’ incomes, Rao said improved seeds with the best quality parameters are the prime requirement to ensure improved yields. Seeds contribute most to enhancing farm productivity. Quality seeds also enhance returns on other investments made by farmers on fertilisers, crop protection etc. In India, seed replacement rates range are still low at 35-40 per cent in food grains and there is a huge potential for conversion into hybrids in many crops.
Private sector contributes the lion’s share of 75-80 per cent of the overall seeds business in India and this is bound to grow further, given the impetus given by the government to private enterprise on various fronts.
Also with implementation of a new Seed Act and more comprehensive implementation of the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act, 2001 (PPVFR Act), the industry would consolidate towards a more R&D-driven entity with good opportunities of public-private partnerships, Rao said.
“Due to availability of IPR on new varieties, our company is investing not only for hybrids development but is also into variety development in crops like wheat, rice, mustard, pulses etc. Before PPVFR Act was implemented, private sector seed companies were mainly focused on hybrids only.”
Rao also stressed the need for an aggressive growth in farm output in certain crops like pulses and oilseeds through increased investment in crop improvement programmes. In crops like food grains and vegetables, where productivity is not the issue, development of enabling conditions including legislation, implementation of reforms, policy, market development and the like need to be made for creating an environment which can fetch remunerative prices for agricultural output, he said.