In need of more quality seeds

by Md Shafayet Hossain | Published: 00:00, Mar 14,2019

 
 

Rice production in Bangladesh. — Wikimedia Commons

Quality seeds are considered an important factor in increasing crop outturn. It helps greatly in higher production per unit area to attain food security. Among the cereal crops, rice is the staple food, accounting for more than 65 per cent of the calorie intake. Crop yield can be increased by 15–20 per cent through the use of quality seeds, keeping other factors constant.
In a study, it was found that 10-15 per cent yield can be increased by the use of quality seeds. The yield of almost all crops is low in Bangladesh compared with that in other countries. An inadequate supply of quality cereal seeds is one of the important limiting factors for lower yield. Still 46 per cent farmers can use quality seeds and the rest 54 per cent of them depend on poor quality seed.
Sixty per cent of the total requirement of the quality cereal seeds such as rice, wheat and maize are supplied by both public and private organisations and the rest 40 per cent are produced traditionally by farmers, which is known as informal seed and considered below standards.
A portion of formal seed such as hybrid seeds of rice and maize are imported by private seed companies. Another important source of seed is the informal seed which farmers keep from part of their produce and use traditionally for subsequent crop production. These seeds are never subjected to any quality test and seed production procedure is not followed. The national seed strategy should find ways to strengthen the informal seed system along with the formal system for sustainable seed supply.
Although the net cropped area is declining, the total cropped area is increasing with the increase in area cultivated more than once. The cultivable land under cereal crops such as rice, wheat and maize is 120.95 lakh hectares. The cropping intensity has now increased to 215 per cent. The intensive rice cultivation is now dominating crop agriculture. In the boro season, 75 per cent area is covered by high-yielding varieties and 21 per cent by hybrid rice varieties. About 73 per cent aman area is used for high-yielding varieties and 27 per cent for local varieties. Wheat covers 3.70 lakh hectares. The area under maize production is increasing gradually.
In a World Bank report, the population of Bangladesh is projected to increase to 182.3 million by 2025. Thus productivity of land has to be increased by nearly 50 per cent in the next quarter of a century if Bangladesh wants to remain within a tolerably safe margin of agricultural supply. Therefore, there is a tremendous scarcity of good quality formal seed. It is observed that dependence on formal seed has increased over time. Long-term planning for food security is urgently necessary with the context of existing trend of population growth. To ensure food availability for the increasing population, adequate quantity of quality cereal seed supply is a must. Failure of the government to ensure the supply of quality cereal seeds will result in lower productivity, risk of food security, increased seed/food import dependence, which will ultimately reflect in the gross domestic product.
To cultivate the land under the said crops, around 3,33,120 tonnes of cereal seeds are required but the supplied quantity of quality seed against the requirement is only 2,01,794 tonnes. Hybrid rice seed accounts for around 3.5 per cent of the total seed requirement. In 2016–17, the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation and the private seed sector provided 3500 tonnes and 8680 tonnes of hybrid rice seeds respectively.
According to the UN projection, the population of Bangladesh will further increase to 186 and 202 million by 2030 and 2050 respectively. We are nearly being self-sufficient in rice but supplementary import is necessary to cover the food demand. The total food grain production was 37.38 million tonnes of which rice was 36.28 million tonnes and wheat was 1.10 million tonnes. In 2017–18, the total food grain import was 9.77 million tonnes of which rice was 3.89 million tonnes and wheat 5.88 million tonnes.
The requirement of wheat is much more than production; moreover, the consumption is increasing at the rate of 3 per cent a year. So, it is very important to increase wheat production to reduce costs. Maize production is gradually increasing because of a high demand in poultry feed. The production was 1.55 million tonnes. Thirty-three per cent of the total required cereal seed such as rice, wheat and maize is supplied by the Agricultural Development Corporation. Cereal seed supply is mainly constrained by seed processing and preservation facilities.
The Department of Agricultural Extension started producing seeds under a project although the produced seeds are kept in farmer’s house; hence, there is no control of government over the seed. Rice seed supplied by private sector still quite low but maize seed supply is encouraging. The private seed sector has increased the availability of seeds to commercial farmers, but their implication for quality seeds and ability to meet the seed requirement of the small farmers are uncertain. Private seed companies are supplying an increased proportion of hybrid of cereals. It is an urgent need to balance responsibilities between the public and the private sector so that the need for quality cereal seed is fulfilled at a reasonable price.
The productivity will not increase if bad seeds are replaced with the quality ones. Since the quality of seed saved by farmers is poor, the availability of quality seed will not only improve seed replacement rate but also help to save seeds by using lower dose of seed per unit area. The seed replacement rate is around 60 per cent in rice and 53 per cent in wheat. In case of maize, the seed replacement rate is maximum which is more than 97 per cent as the farmers used to buy the hybrid seeds from seed companies.
Once the farmers get the seeds of a high-yielding variety from the seed organisations, they cultivate it, produce seed and store for reuse in the next season. Most of them rarely come for replacement of the seed stock until the yield potential of that cultivar declined remarkably. Agricultural production per unit area needs to be doubled to attain the Sustainable Development Goals and to attain Bangladesh’s visions 2021 and 2030. If the availability of quality cereal seed is not ensured, the food supply for the growing population will be at high risk.

Dr Md Shafayet Hossain is deputy manager of the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation.

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