SEED is the primary input for crop production and high-quality seed is the key for obtaining high yield and a good financial return both at farmer and commercial level. High-quality seeds are mostly either produced or imported by private companies. In the case of notified crops, the quality of seeds produced and marketed are ensured by the Seed Certification Agency. However, for non-notified crops, the quality of seed either produced or imported is maintained and ensured by seed-producing organisations. Potato has recently been declared a non-notified crop by the National Seed Board.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a disastrous impact obn economic, social, family and personal life the world over. It is not yet over and may continue for a long time. Suggestions for taking immediate steps and for long preparedness are coming from national and international agencies dealing with health, industry, transport, education, culture, human resources, and the production of crops, animals and fish. The world as well as Bangladesh is not at all prepared to face the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coming down to the situation in Bangladesh, especially in respect of food and agriculture, immediate steps and both short- and long-term plans are needed to tackle the present crisis and its impact that is in store. Food security has become a popular and unavoidable concept in a wider sense now. Turning to the contribution of crop-based food production in food security, success depends on many agro-ecological factors such as the availability of good seed at the right time and at affordable prices.
In Bangladesh, 70 per cent of people are engaged in agriculture and its socio-economic base mainly depends on agriculture. Most of the rural poor of this region depend on crop production for livelihood. Because of an inadequate supply of quality seeds and planting materials, crop yields are relatively lower in this country than those in many other agriculturally developed countries.
With a gradual improvement in the seed sector through the implementation of seed industry-friendly government policies, the private sector now plays a significant role in the supply of seeds. Some reputed national seed companies are now investing in seed research and development in order to support their seed business.
The concept of increasing food security through an increased supply of high-quality seed has been emphasised in a number of international agency-supported projects implemented in Bangladesh in the recent past. Seed, in emergencies, gets priority in many underdeveloped and developing countries, including Bangladesh, during natural disasters such as cyclone and flood. International agencies and many donor-funded non-governmental organisations operate seed relief programmes as an immediate support for the growing of crops. In seed relief operations, physical, physiological, phytosanitary and genetic qualities of seed require attention so that vulnerable farmers are provided with quality seed of the appropriate crops and varieties.
In a report, ‘Bangladesh: Towards Achieving Food Security 2009-2019’, the production and distribution of quality seed have been recognised as the prime input to increased agricultural production and that quality seeds can contribute to increasing the yield by 15–20 per cent.
Potato is such a unique crop, which can help to reduce malnutrition, play an important role in ensuring food security and enhance farmer’s income. The area where potato was grown in recent times in Bangladesh spans about 3.1 lakh hectares, requiring about 7 lakh tonnes of seed potatoes. Out of this, only 38,900 tonnes of quality seed potatoes are produced and marketed in the formal sector, which account for 5.56 per cent of the total requirement. The rest 94.4 per cent of seed potatoes planted are farmer’s seeds. Out of 38,900 tonnes of quality seed potatoes, the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation produces 18.900 tonnes and the rest 20,000 tonnes are produced in the private sector. The total cost of 7 lakh tonnes of seed potatoes planted in a year amounts to about Tk 2,100 crore.
Now, coming to a specific case of possible serious consequences of COVID-19 on the supply of quality seeds for potato production in 2020–21, immediate steps in the context of seed security need to be taken. The following aspects should be carefully addressed for a smooth supply of quality seed potatoes to potato growers before the next growing season starts.
— Seed potatoes produced, preserved and marketed by public sector organisations: The BADC, TCRC/BARI and RDA Bogura are the sources of quality-seed potatoes in the public sector. Past experiences indicate that irregularities take place in the supply and marketing of seed potatoes preserved by the Agricultural Development Corporation when seed crisis occurs. Strong measures need to be taken so that a smooth supply is maintained and potato growers get seed potatoes at reasonable prices and at an appropriate time. The arrangement of credits for potato-growing farmers is urgently needed, particularly for the purchase of high-quality seed potatoes and other production inputs.
— Seed potatoes produced, preserved and marketed by private sector organisations: Private companies and non-governmental organisations produce and preserve a sizeable quantity of quality seed potatoes. Depending on market situations, seed potato-producing companies start selling their preserved seed potatoes in early October. On many occasions, valuable seed potatoes are sold at reduced prices after the optimum planting time, most of which goes to the consumer market as table potatoes. This is a national oss, which needs to be properly addressed by relevant government agencies.
— Use of farmer’s seed potatoes: Farmer’s seed potatoes are what are not produced as seed potatoes in the formal system and often saved from potatoes harvested from a table potato crop. Farmer’s seed potatoes, composed of both modern and indigenous varieties, constitute about 94.4 per cent of the total seed potatoes planted by potato growers. Owners of farmer’s seeds take the delivery of their seed potato bags from cold storages, depending on market demand, price and potato planting time in the area. The market demand and price of farmer’s seed potatoes fluctuate highly and are very unpredictable. Depending on the market price of table potatoes, owners of farmer’s seed potatoes often sell their seed potatoes much earlier than the planting time. Consequently, the seed potatoes go to the table potato markets. And on the other hand, table potatoes preserved in cold storages are often sold as seed potatoes at the gate of cold storage, especially in the seed potato planting time.
Finally, turning to the possibility of any post-COVID-19 seed relief programne by any national or international organisations, agencie sor institutions, utmost care and protection must be taken so that under no circumstances, farmer’s seed potatoes can be included in any of such seed relief programmes. For the programmes, only certified or truthfully levelled seed potatoes, produced and preserved by public or private sector organisations should be used. Although potato is a non-notified crop in Bangladesh, no one should be allowed to import seed potatoes from any foreign country for running any seed relief programme.
Dr Md Abdus Siddique is chief adviser to ACI Potato Research, ACI Agribusiness; and Dr FH Ansarey is managing director and chief executive officer, ACI Agribusiness.
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