Huge Scope for Rice Seeds Trade between India and Bangladesh

“The existing demand-supply gap in high yielding varieties of rice seeds in India and Bangladesh provides a huge scope for cooperation between the two countries. That could be realised through trade and knowledge sharing”, said Bipul Chatterjee, Deputy Executive Director, CUTS International.

Welcoming the participants to a meeting on ‘trade and knowledge sharing between India and Bangladesh on high yielding varieties of rice seeds’ on 18th July 2014 in Jaipur, he noted: “Being a critical input for the production of the most important staple food in both the countries, HYV rice seeds need a special attention from all relevant stakeholders including farmers, seed traders, seed associations, scientists of both the countries.”

The project titled ‘Addressing Barriers to Rice Seeds Trade between India and Bangladesh’ is supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In partnership with a number of local partners in four states of Eastern India, viz. Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal, and with Unnayan Shamannay, a Dhaka-based developmental organisation, CUTS International is implementing this project for fostering cooperation between the two neighbours on this critical input which is vital to their food and livelihood security.

Lack of a formal cooperation between the two countries is causing serious difficulties to farmers in regard to the availability and accessibility to quality rice seeds. To address this issue, the meeting called for a formal cooperation between Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, and National Seed Association of India and Bangladesh Seeds Association.

“Cooperation between the two apex seed associations of India and Bangladesh will help create an enabling environment for formalising our trade in HYV rice seeds. This can be formalised by signing of a memorandum of understanding outlining the purpose and areas of such cooperation,” said Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, Director General of National Seed Association of India.

Supporting his view, Ashadul Amin, General Secretary, Bangladesh Seeds Association, said: “This memorandum of understanding can initiate long-term cooperation between the two countries, not only in rice seeds but also in other seeds, which will help enhancing agricultural productivity in the region.” They urged CUTS to play a catalytic role in fostering such cooperation between the two apex seed associations.

Lack of formal trade and knowledge sharing are forcing farmers of both the countries, particularly in border areas, to use informally traded seeds, which are not of good quality. In 2013, it is estimated that about 21 per cent of total area under rice production in Bangladesh relied on Indian varieties. It is also hindering seed replacement rate, a crucial factor behind raising agriculture productivity.

According to Uma Shankar Singh, South Asia Coordinator of International Rice Research Institute’s Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) Project: “In order to address issues relating to timely availability of quality rice seeds and for sharing knowledge on new varieties, both governments have taken initiatives for varietal exchange including joint varietal evaluation and release.” He noted that there are complementarities between this project and the STRASA project.
Shahjahan Kabir, Director, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, emphasised on the need for identifying gaps in existing agriculture cooperation arrangements between the two countries and urged the project to focus on how to address those gaps.

Noting that the project has made significant progress over the last one and half year, Sushil Pandey, Former Senior Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute, said: “We are now better aware of factors hindering formal trade in HYV rice seeds between the two countries. They, including regulatory barriers, should be addressed in the larger context of agriculture cooperation between the two countries.” He suggested that there should be a more robust estimation of informal trade across borders and inter-state flows of HYV rice seeds.

There was a consensus among the participants that other than estimating the volume of informal trade in HYV rice seeds across India-Bangladesh border, there should be case studies, including covering the North East Region of India bordering Bangladesh, highlighting benefits to farmers from formal trade in HYV rice seeds between the two countries.