Regulation not in interest of seed industry, says newly formed FSII

The Federation of Indian Seed Industry Association has called the earlier move of the government to put the regulatory price cap on the Bt Cotton seed costs and other orders related to intellectual property as arbitrary


New Delhi: As per the letter written by the newly constituted Federation of Indian Seed Industry Association (FSII), a national body of seed companies, the move to cap the Bt cotton prices is not a justified move. The Association that was launched recently at Delhi claims to be committed to promoting science and technology based Seed Industry in India, for the benefit and welfare of Indian farmers.

The Biovoice News which is in possession of the letter, FSII response to CSPCO clearly mentions that it has been written against the background of recent regulatory measures in Cotton seeds, which have the potential to negatively impact the entire Indian Seed industry. “The Cotton Seed Price (control) Order issued in December 2015(CSPCO) and subsequent actions in regulating prices and licensing fee are not in the larger interest of the Seed Industry. What is of greater concern is the unilateral action of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, GOI, in issuing a notification of Trait Licensing guidelines and format for the GM technology on 18th May 2016, which is subsequently placed as draft licensing guidelines inviting comments and suggestions from public by 24th Aug 2016,” it says.

The detailed letter lists out various facts in support of FSII’s arguments against the regulatory cap on seed prices. It goes on to mention “All of us in the seed Industry are well aware of the benefits brought in by the Bt Cotton technology to farmers, country as a whole and the Cotton seed Industry in particular. The value of the cotton seed market improved and all the sub-licensee companies benefited from this market growth. According to our estimate, while the Bt Cotton created a cumulative value in excess of 5 lakh crore , Seed Industry benefit from this technology is in excess of Rs 40,000 Cr in a period of last 15 years. As intended, Indian farmers had a lion’s share in the value created with the cumulative benefit exceeding Rs 4 lac Cr to our cotton farmers. Bt Cotton technology was the major growth driver in Indian Seed Industry for about a decade since its introduction in 2002-03. We are concerned that the regressive measures of price control and proposed licensing guidelines would stall the progress of Indian Seed Industry, to the detriment of larger interest of Indian agriculture.”

It is mandatory for the technology provider to license the technology to any seed company that approaches. But FSII letter puts out a question that if the technology provider does not give the license in 30 days then it is ‘deemed to have been given ‘and the seed company can use it: This equates all seed companies to be equal. Some of the good quality seed companies with high stakes and those who do not have long term stakes are all put into the same category. “Is this fair to the good quality seed companies who invest a lot of money in setting up research and other infrastructure?,” it asks.

The note from FSII says that currently, over 95% of the Cotton market is covered by Bt Cotton from 49 Seed companies. This actually proves that the Bt traits were made widely available and was widely used by the farmers. One wonders, when the technology has reached such a large section of ultimate beneficiaries through a very wide number of Seed companies, what was the need for new policy guidelines which have clearly written on an assumption that there was a restricted availability of technology. If these draft licensing guidelines were to be implemented, it will close the door for any future crop biotech product from the private sector with serious implications for the Indian agriculture and also for the seed Industry.

Among few of the implications of these guidelines impacting the industry in longer run mentioned by FSII include several technologies with similar potential to deliver benefits to Indian farmers are in the research and regulatory pipeline. FSSI says that some of these traits are applicable to large crops like rice, wheat, and maize; therefore, will potentially benefit much larger number of farming families. Restrictive policies like CSPCO and Draft policy guidelines will effectively limit the access for these future technologies to Indian farmer.

In addition to such arbitrary price regulation, if the freedom of choice of licensee is not allowed, it would surely discourage any entrepreneur to invest further in such a venture. This would ultimately be at the cost of Indian agriculture as it would curtail access to modern technologies for our farmers, believes FSII. 

“Growth of Seed Industry is linked closely with access to modern technologies. Given this, we would like the Government to facilitate more and more technology access to Indian seed Industry. There has been an attempt to obfuscate protection of crop biotech innovation by different interpretation of concept, scope and provisions of Patent act, 1970 vis a vis concept, scope and provisions of Pant Protection of Varieties and Farmers Right act,(PPV&FRA) 2001. As has been understood so far, PPV & FRA protects plant varieties, while the technology protection is through Patent act. As there is a new to interpretation of PVPFRA vis a vis Patent act to surmise that crop biotechnology research does not have patent protection, there is a need to have clarity on the subject. As shared in the enclosed annexure, it is important to have clear IP protection for new inventions to encourage investments in research and innovation in Agriculture.”

In conclusion, the letter reiterates that the Price control of Bt Cotton Seeds through CSPCO, 2015, and the proposed guidelines on licensing are not in the interest of Indian Seed Industry, and also not in the larger interest of Indian Agriculture. “We would earnestly request the Government to review and rescind both these measures,” it concludes.