M M Saoji
Director, marketing, Ankur Seeds, Nagpur
The author has experience of three decades with Ankur Seeds. He
successfully conceptualized and established many products in cotton,
field crops and vegetables. Presently, Ankur Seeds is operational in 20
states of the country. His customer insight and focus on brand pull has
enabled the company to reach a
The life sciences industry is one of the most interesting and
challenging industries in the world today, because of its vibrancy and
solution-providing potential. However, there is an inherent challenge
for corporate leaders in the life science companies to exude confidence
in their processes and product-development capabilities, while
remaining true to the complexity of what it takes to develop a product,
survive lengthy clinical and field trials, and bring it to market.
Marketing in biotechnology needs to foster objectivity, report facts
and steer clear of hype. Truth needs to be communicated to both, the
stakeholders and the public.
Among all the divisions of biotechnology, bioagri has huge potential as
we have already witnessed that “Indian farmers are the world’s fastest
adopters of Bt cotton technology”, owing to the immense benefit
associated with it. Today, India has got the highest area under Bt
cotton in the world (98 percent of the total cotton in India is Bt
cotton). As a result, cotton has become the biggest success story in
Indian agriculture since the Green Revolution.
In a country struggling with stagnant yields in most crops, cotton has
been the one exception. Production soared from 13.6 million bales in
2002-03 to 31.2 million bales in 2010-11, a figure that catapulted
India into the big league, enabling it to account for as much as 23
percent of the global production in 2010 and a significant chunk of the
forex earnings through the export of cotton yarn.
Bt cotton technology adoption success can be compared with information
technology and mobile technology, but when we consider the end user
profile, the success dimension of Bt cotton becomes even more
significant. Thus, without any iota of doubt, we can say that bioagri
is going to play a key role in shaping India’s rapidly developing rural
economy in the coming years. This is evident from the growth rate of
bioagri, which has been the highest among all the biotech segments
since the last four-to-five years.
Challenges of patent protection
Considering the huge investment required in developing new biotech agri
products, the seed industry has been waiting eagerly to have an
effective product patent act in place from the concerned authority to
motivate the companies to make investments in order to innovate and
develop newer, better products for early release in the market.
Bt cotton seed production planning is a very complex activity as it has
to be planned one year in advance at the corporate level and all the
risk associated with it are to be faced by the company itself. Over and
above all, production quantum has to be estimated before seeing the
actual product performance in the field.
Acreage under cotton crop depends upon commodity rates of the produce
and crop economics of substitute crop. Thus, estimating the actual
demand of product are dependent on some uncontrollable factors.
Similarly, cotton seeds are produced in open field conditions and are
exposed to weather vagaries. All these factors make it very difficult
to match the actual market demand as a result of which, sometimes, we
end up with excess supply and some other times, with short supply. As
seeds are perishable goods, accurate forecasting of the particular
product is of immense significance.
With the advent of Bt cotton in India, stake of Indian seed companies
in this business has increased manifold. The higher cost of production
has put a lot of pressure on the financials of the seed company.
However, none of the channel members, being unorganized, share the
financial burden so that the company can free some money from the
working capital to invest in future projects in order to support
R&D, initiate and sustain new projects in the bioagri field.
Seed companies dealing with biotech products are not done with their
jobs until and unless they provide after-sales service to existing
customers for harvesting maximum leverage out of biotech products and
enabling these companies to show their real worth through propagation
of certain cultivation practices such as, proper spacing, balanced use
of fertilizers and micronutrients in split doses, irrigation at
critical stages, spray of appropriate pesticide for control of sucking
pest and understanding of the economic threshold limit concept. This
technology communication is being done by Ankur seeds at its own level
very piously by looking into the benefit arising out of the agriculture
extension wing of the government could help in propagating the same
with brisk pace.
We understand that in the seed business, we are required to potray
successfully-raised crops to the prospective farmers, since ‘seeing is
believing’. It is the best means to propagate the new technology but it
is also a costly means of promotion. Thus, government support is
solicited in further promotion of the technology among non-users.
Government regulatory structure
Taking into account the huge success of Bt Cotton, Indian farmers are
expecting further advanced products in seeds with the potential to
mitigate their misery through reduced cost of cultivation and increased
Different agri-biotech projects are in pipeline with different seed
companies like, herbicide resistance in cotton, drought tolerance in
cotton, sucking pest resistance in rice and cotton, herbicide
resistance in corn and cotton, and uniform boll bursting in cotton.
However, these are not able to reach farmers because of complex
government clearance system. Streamlining India’s regulatory framework
through the inception of a single window product clearance system with
well-defined parameters in the biopharma sector, wherein certain set of
clinical trials for a specified period are required for the release of
vaccine or medicine, has to be put into place.