Experts and officials at an international conference here on Sunday claimed that some well-known, modern rice varieties developed in Bangladesh and India are frequently crossing the border between the countries through informal channels.
Bangladeshi high yielding varieties (HYV), including BR-11, BR-12, BRRI Dhan-28, BRRI Dhan-29, and hybrid variety Hira are being hugely cultivated by farmers in different districts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal states in India, while their cross-border neighbours in Jessore, Dinajpur and Chapainawabganj districts in Bangladesh are also cultivating informally imported varieties, including Swarna, Minikit and Parijat, they noted.
The factor that farmers are going for the varieties developed in the neighbouring countries because of better grain quality and yield of those varieties compared to other varieties at their disposal is showing a bright prospect for the private seeds companies provided the barriers of formal trading of rice seeds between the countries are removed, they said.
They stressed the need for harmonisation of seed certification and marketing processes that are existing in both the countries lest that substandard seeds or disease-infected seeds are not accidentally exchanged that can have detrimental impact on food security on both sides in the longer term.
The observations came at the conference, titled ‘Addressing Barriers to Rice Seeds Trade between India and Bangladesh’, jointly organised by Unnayan Shamannay and Cuts International with assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at Brac Centre Inn.
Agriculture Ministry additional secretary (seeds) Anwar Faruque said, “Cross-border trade of HYV seeds is there, but not happening formally because of various apparent complicacies like IPR (intellectual property rights).”
He noted that official step has been on from both sides to initiate a bilateral framework for the formal exchange of rice seeds between Bangladesh and India.
Bangladesh is also advocating the implementation of the proposed Saarc Seed Bank to be able to ensure reciprocal benefits to all the South Asian countries by ensuring the dynamic and secure transfer of the seed technologies, added Faruque.
A Cuts International study in 2012 estimated that Bangladesh’s rice seed market was worth US$ 261 million at that time.
Swapan Kumar Dutta, deputy director general of India Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), stressed ‘open management of materials (germplasms)’ between the two countries for research collaboration for varietal development.
Brac executive director Mahbub Hossain said seeds embody technological progress and farmers can be benefited by quick dissemination of the technology to have better yields and quality of their crops.
Mahbub, however, cautioned that the wrong selection of seeds and other inputs can impose a heavy burden on the farmer.
He also noted that the quality of rice grain comes first in farmers’ consideration when they go for the seed selection, rather than the cost, or even the yield aspect.
For example, said Mahbub, hybrid rice cultivation, despite the prospect of 15-20 percent higher yield than that of the HYVs, is no longer making inroads over the last three years because of the factor that the grain quality is not satisfactory to the consumer, leading to a 15 lower price of the produce.
Besides, hybrid seeds market in Bangladesh is dominated by imported Chinese seeds, although the Indian hybrid seeds are much cheaper in comparison, he added.
The inaugural session of the international conference was presided over by Unnayan Shamannay emeritus fellow Khondker Ibrahim Khaled.