Last week, three farmers from a village in Krishna district attempted to commit suicide in front of police station in Vijayawada. They were looking to draw attention to their desperate plight following their failure to secure compensation from two seed companies whose seeds had turned out to be spurious.
The farmers’ suicide attempt was foiled, and they were rushed to hospital. But the dramatic events served to refocus attention on a problem of spurious seeds, especially in chilli and cotton crops, which has bedevilled the lives of farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for quite a while.
It also triggered a public debate on the governments’ failure to take action against errant seed companies and to ensure justice to farmers. Seeds being the most critical agricultural input, any defect makes agriculture a dangerous gamble. Chilli farmers in Andhra Pradesh spend more than Rs. 1 lakh per acre to raise the crop, and seed failure can cause enormous economic loss. There is also a problem with Bt cotton seeds provided by some companies. Officials in the Agriculture Department confirmed that the chilli crop in the village had failed due to defective seeds. The District Collector had ordered the two seed companies to pay a compensation of Rs.2.13 crore to the farmers.
Orders were also issued under the Revenue Recovery Act to seize the companies’ assets. However, the companies moved the AP High Court and obtained a stay, and the farmers have been trying in vain for more than one-and-a-half years to get compensation. The Opposition parties – YSR Congress, the Congress and the communists – have criticised “the ineptitude of the State government” and demanded immediate steps to address the issue.
Farmers in Andhra Pradesh depend heavily on three commercial crops: chilli, cotton and tobacco. The tobacco crop faces no seed problem, but the other two face the problem periodically.
There is a seed certification procedure in place for the seeds produced by government agencies or those produced and sold by private companies. Even so, spurious seeds find their way to villages through unscrupulous dealers, although the role of companies is also suspect.
Bharatiya Kisan Sangh leader J Kumaraswamy says seed companies are making use of loopholes and grey areas in the “antiquated” laws, primarily the Seeds Act, 1966. For years, the Andhra Pradesh government has been talking of passing new legislation at the State level to fix errant seed companies, but nothing has been done so far, he said. The Centre should pass a new seed law, with stringent provisions to punish the companies, and ensure compensation to farmers in the event of a crop failure, he added. “It is all the more necessary as we do not have a comprehensive crop insurance policy. Seed companies are right now going scot-free, and strict steps should be taken to discipline them,” he said.