Sushil Karwa, MD, Krishidhan Seeds Group
Mr Sushil Karwa is a trained commerce and management professional and
has been the managing director of Krishidhan for 14 years. Mr Karwa has
agribusiness experience of over two decades in corporate development
affairs, product placement and agri-biotech product commercialization
Anup Karwa, Director-life sciences, Krishidhan Seeds Group
Dr Anup Karwa is a bio-entrepreneur and one of the founders of
Krishidhan Seeds. He did his master’s in molecular genetics from the
University of Leicester, UK, and pursued PhD in plant molecular biology
at Dusseldorf University, Germany.
The success of Bt cotton has ignited the imagination of both farmers
and the industry in India and has become the focus of growth and
development of the industry. While planting of Bt cotton in over 90
percent of the area under cotton cultivation and introduction of close
to 1,000 hybrids in almost every micro-agri zone has made farmers
happy, it has also thrown up many challenges for the industry.
Initially, the introduction of a biotech crop in the form of Bt cotton
triggered mixed feelings of anxiety and hope among farmers. The cotton
crop, which was and continues to be major economic sustenance for poor
farmers in rain-fed zones, was getting seriously affected by the
recurrent onset of bollworm infestation. This forced the farmers to
shift to alternative but less remunerative crops and caused severe
economic hardships for them. The shift towards more toxic insecticides
also did not provide any relief, but compounded their misery in the
form of serious health problems.
The success and its consequences
The success of Bt cotton was very timely and led to faster adoption of
it by farmers. Consequently, the farming sector reported better
economic growth without compromising on food security. It has made
farmers more technology conscious and ready for new products. Often,
during our interactions, farmers ask about new products.
Cities in India are growing at an unprecedented rate and are offering
lucrative employment opportunities to rural laborers. This is putting
severe pressure on the availability of farm labor, which is forcing
farmers to go for labor-saving technology, like mechanization and
chemical weed control, instead of using conventional farm labor. This
warrants that the crops too be tolerant to such chemicals. We are also
looking forward to the introduction of herbicide resistance in several
crops, so that farm productivity does not suffer due to labor shortage.
Another consequence of the success of Bt cotton has been that farmers
have started adopting new varieties and hybrids and the rate of seed
replacement in other crops has also improved giving the industry an
avenue for growth. It has created a win-win situation for both farmers
and the industry.
At present, the seed industry in India is worth approximately
crore and is steadily growing at the compound annual growth rate of
10-to-12 percent. Open pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds are being replaced
by hybrids and these are getting value-added with genetically modified
organism (GMO), for example Bt cotton. This has had a tremendous
positive impact on productivity and exports.
The private sector dominates the seed business. There is 20 percent
business through public sector (notified seeds) and another 20-to-25
percent through multinational companies (MNCs) that are interested only
in high-value hybrid seeds.
Now, India has become a target for the MNCs as the world seed industry
is growing at the rate of 4.3 percent, whereas the seed industry in
India is growing at the rate of 10 to 12 percent through diversified
crops. Local seed companies in India and small regional players
contribute 55-to -60 percent to the seed industry in India.
Innovation is the way forward
It is almost imperative that the seed industry invests in R&D. The
product shelf-life, which was normally 10-to-12 years (notified or
conventional hybrid), is now seven-to-eight years because of high
expectations of farmers. In the initial two years, the companies
promote and establish the product and, if it performs well, it can do
voluminous business in the next four-to-five years. By that time,
farmer’s needs change or better substitutes become available. Thus,
R&D cost is continuous and very high.
Introduction of new biotech crops that would address problems like
resistance to pests, bacteria, virus and protection against drought or
water logging are the major demands of farmers. We are aware that
development and introduction of these complex traits through GMO is an
extended and expensive affair. The application of alternative
biotechnology through molecular markers is also incumbent upon the
availability of natural genes in cultivars or wild species. We are
looking at a very challenging problem where the hopes are high and
progress is slow and expensive. Thus, Krishidhan is transforming and
has evolved its strategy from science to curiosity and now to
Need for partnerships & policy
Today, seed companies in India are, to a great extent, dependent on
MNCs for new technologies. We envisage that innovation-based R&D
will play a major role in bringing sustainable and durable products. A
company with higher investment is likely to be better able to serve
farmers and, hence, grow faster. The industry cannot grow unless it
meets the demand of the farmers, and at the same time, in order to
survive, it will be required to make heavy investments in R&D.
No single industry alone will be able to meet the challenges forced by
climatic changes and problems of pests and diseases. Therefore,
seam-free and public-private and private-private partnerships are a
must. These can be facilitated if public and private R&D are
treated at par and be provided generous support for infrastructure and
grants for projects in stand alone or partnership mode.
Also, in order to sustain the gains and keep the seed industry
competitive, changes in government policies will be needed to encourage
competition and innovation, streamline science-based predictable
regulatory system, no price control and implementation of intellectual
property rights to create an investment-friendly ambiance.
Such a change in policy is inevitable to accelerate science, curiosity
and innovation driven R&D, which, in turn, shall support marketing
to overcome strategic and operational challenges and ensure overall
agribusiness sustainability and food security.