Importing Quality Rice Seeds from India

The Financial Express, December 29, 2013

Seed is at the root of farming. Good quality seeds help reap better crop harvest. Cheap but adulterated ones bring disaster not only for farmers but also for soil. At an international seminar held in Dhaka recently, experts from both home and abroad stressed the need for import of good high-yielding paddy seeds from abroad, particularly from neighbouring India because of their cost effectiveness and similar weather conditions. They suggested Bangladesh and India should begin formal seed trading at the earliest.

The experts, however, found non-tariff barriers, imposed by India, to be a major hurdle to official rice seed trading between the two countries. Farmers of the countries exchange rice seeds frequently and conduct seed trade informally. But such trading should be done through a formal channel to ensure quality of seeds and price competitiveness. Incidentally, several Bangladeshi high-yielding varieties, including BR-11, BR-12, Brridhan-28, Brridhan-29, and hybrid variety Hira are being cultivated by farmers in different districts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orisha, Pashchimbanga and Assam states in India. On the other hand, farmers in Jessore, Dinajpur and Chapainawabganj districts in neighbouring Bangladesh are also cultivating different Indian varieties like Swarna and Miniket.

An expert, long associated with the seed department of Bangladesh, has called for conducting joint research by the two countries. He has also pleaded for setting up a SAARC Seed Bank, already proposed by the government of Bangladesh. The SAARC was set up as early as in 1985 to serve as a conduit for collaborative efforts to improve the lot of over one billion population of the region. But sadly it has yet to make its mark in living up to the expectations. A joint action under the aegis of the SAARC in producing quality paddy seeds is vital as one expert pointed out that hybrid rice has achieved little in Bangladesh due to its bad quality. India had four kinds of hybrid rice seeds in 1998. The number now stands at 104, of which 90 varieties are imported from China. Quality is also important besides productivity in case of hybrid seeds.

Countries like Bangladesh and India today face hostile weather conditions due to climate change. There has been less rainfall and more droughts while there has been greater salinity intrusion in the river water. This has put food security at a great risk. More comparative advantage should lead the two neighbouring countries to go for official seed trade as Bangladesh is good at production of Boro variety while India is good at Aman variety. To improve bilateral trade in rice seed, there is a need for political commitment from both ends. Two issues — uniqueness and comparative advantage — influence trade. The comparative advantage itself can help the two countries strike official seed trading and cut unbridled smuggling. Political and regulatory barriers to rice seed trade need to be removed. If India could import quality rice seeds from China, why can't Bangladesh buy Indian HYV seeds officially? Bangladesh can justifiably look forward to the Indian cooperation in this regard..

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