Deliberation on Ensuring Seed Quality | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 12, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:30 PM, May 12, 2016


Deliberation on Ensuring Seed Quality

Recently, Katalyst, SoMaSHTe and The Daily Star organised a roundtable on “Quality Vegetable Seed Production and Certification”. Here we publish a summary of the discussions.

Md. Abu Sayem, Regional Farm Broadcasting Officer, Agriculture Information Service presented the keynote paper in which he mentioned that according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Bangladesh is the third largest vegetable producer in the world. In Asia, it is the largest producer of vegetables.  According to Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), vegetable consumption increased by 71 percent since 1994, from 42 gram per capita per day to 70gm in 2014. He said that seeds play the most important role for sustainable crop production. Quality seeds can increase 15-20 percent yield potentiality. This is true for all crops including vegetables. The public sector produced 4 percent of 2,854 metric tonnes vegetable seed the country required in 2014-15, while the private sector companies supplied more than 66 percent of the requirement. The import stood at 582 metric tonnes. In 2012 it was 718 metric tonnes. It shows that we have significantly reduced our dependency on seed import. 

A good number of farmers are satisfied with the seeds of renowned companies. But many of the farmers did not get the promised yields that were written on the packets. In most cases farmers incurred losses when they purchased seeds from unauthorised vendors.

Ferdousi Begum, a renowned Plant Biotechnologist of the country said that Bangladesh cannot claim that we are self-sufficient in food production because we do not produce adequate amount of seeds to fulfill our local demands. Still we have to import a large amount of our seeds, particularly seeds of maize and potato. That's why we need to emphasise on seed production. This is a long term process. The government should grant adequate funds for this purpose. We should also go for public private partnership arrangement and involve private companies to produce seeds. We also need to invest in capacity building of our seed-related bodies. 

Md. Abdus Sattar, Executive Coordinator, Partex Agro Ltd. Bangladesh emphasised that we cannot produce all seeds because our weather is not conducive to growing many varieties. Still, we can try to grow as much as possible. That's why we need investment in our seed research programmes. We need to learn from other countries. 

Sudhir Chandra Nath, Programme Head, BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise believes that there is an information gap about the present condition of the seed sector. BRAC has already started producing seeds of maize and potato.

Jiban Krishna Biswas, Director General, BRRI thinks there are many cases where good quality seeds have yielded low quality of crops. For a good crop, high quality seed is one factor. But there are other factors as well. Thus he believes some sort notification may help regulating the seed sector better.

Mir Emdad Ali, Producer, Sonali Din, ATN Bangla suggests to include more seed related courses in the  agriculture curriculum. He also suggests seed companies should introduce small seed packages for households or small scale vegetable production. 

Dr. M. Tauhidur Rahman, Principal Scientific Officer, Vegetable Department, BARI informed that we have invented many new varieties of vegetables. But cannot distribute these seeds to the grassroots level due to lack of skilled manpower and effective marketing system. Seed companies should involve their scientists in the skill development training. Our scientists have invented summer variations of many vegetables such as summer tomato, summer capsicum and so on. 

Dr. Md. Nazrul Islam, Professor, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University  said that much has been improved in seed production. Presently, most of the seeds come from our local companies. Still we have to do more. 
To ensure quality of the seeds we need to emphasise on certification system. Many seed companies do not have state of the art seed laboratories. So they do not know what they are selling to the farmers. When the seed fails all the seed companies are blamed. That's why the seed companies should come forward to get certification from the seed authority. 

Afzal Husain, Senior General Manager, Metal Agro Ltd. said that farmers have to know the timing when a particular seed will give maximum output.  Some farmers sow seeds ahead of the season to make higher profits. In those cases, the farm output is not so good even if they use good seeds.  On an average in every two years a new variety of seed hits the market. There are some dishonest businessmen who sell adulterated seeds copying our packaging system. We need to take stern action against these culprits.

Mahbub Anam, Managing Director, Lal Teer Seed Ltd., informed that earlier, from April to August, we did not have many vegetables products. That's why our vegetable intake was so low. After a long struggle we succeeded to relax the compulsory notification system. It created the opportunity of producing seed varieties that can be harvested during the barren season. As a result, our vegetable consumption grew significantly. Rather than restricting innovation in seed sector we should improve our monitoring system.  At present the government issues only phytosanitary certificate which is not enough to ensure export quality. Buyers want orange certificate which clearly mentions about the productivity of the seed. It is a requirement of the International Seed Testing Institute (ISTA). The government should enhance its capacity to issue this type of certificate that is essential for increasing our seed export. 

Rezaul Karim Siddique of BTV's Mati O Manush program suggested creation of consciousness among the farmers about the characteristics of a good seed than to regulate seed production. He also suggested universities and private seed companies should team up to do research on seed varieties.

Dr. Md. Zakir Hossain, Deputy Director (Seed Regulation), Seed Certification Agency, Ministry of agriculture pointed out that the sector was seriously suffering from manpower shortage. In our five regional laboratories, we only have a seed analyst in one laboratory. We are trying to hire more analysts. We also cannot regulate the market of non-notified seeds due to shortage of logistic support and manpower. Through notification we can ensure both seed standard and field standard.

F.R. Malik, General Secretary, Bangladesh Seed Association does not support seed notification system because it will restrict seed innovation efforts. Rather we should go for strong monitoring system at the grassroots level. We also need to bring the packaging industries into this effort. There should be a notification system for the packet design of the seed products. It will help a lot to curb on adulteration of seed.

Md. Azim Uddin, Chief Seed Technologist, Ministry of Agreeculture, believes if a seed company fails to make profit from its seeds it is their liability. Good seeds will drive bad seeds out of circulation.

Fakhrul Islam, DCCO, Getco Agro Vision Ltd. stressed on a strong database for our seed products. The demand for vegetable seeds has certainly grown over the last 22 years. It seems that we do not have any systematic demand analysis of our seed products. The government should develop this database with the help of private companies. He pointed out that we are yet to set up an ISTA accredited lab in our country. Nepal has already done it. If we fail to do that we would not be able to increase our seed export. 

Dr. Bayezid Moral, Executive Producer, Sabuj Bangla, GTV said seed companies should clearly mention in the packet about the nature and amount of pesticides and fertilizers need to be used to get a good harvest from a particular seed. 

In his concluding remark, Anwar Faruque, Former Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture said that he was particularly concerned about adulteration and admixture. We do not find our government agencies active in filing cases against these dishonest businessmen.

Instead of strengthening market monitoring system they are going for notification system which will certainly impinge on our seed production. There is an optional certification system in the new seed law. A company can get certification from a third party which will improve its image in the market. 

We have successfully implemented PPP in rice research. We should do the same for vegetable seeds. In our seed regulations there is no barrier in this regard. Initially the government has to share the major cost of research. Later on private companies will join hands and develop seed research facilities. We also need to do more field research on the quality of seeds. We have to listen to farmers. If a farmer does not get proper price for his products the seed company is not liable for it. 

I agree that there should be an insurance system for natural calamities. It should be handled by insurance companies not government. If crop fails due to bad seeds there can be a compensation mechanism not insurance. 

The use of unauthorised seeds has gone down owing to high quality of seeds being produced locally. The labels of the packages should be easily readable for the farmers. The government has formed many farmer seed groups. They have been trained on seeds.

That's why we see production of seeds at the local level. We need to continue this initiative. 

We have already completed maintenance breeding of rice, jute, wheat and potato. We should do same for our major vegetables. 

Soon we will be able to establish an ISTA accredited lab in the country. We also need to improve our SCA labs. Before making the certification system compulsory we need to strengthen our certification system. 

The private seed companies should strengthen their associations. Only then they will be able to counter unnecessary interventions. 

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