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Rice crop under threat from hybrid seeds
KARACHI: Several companies in the country are currently busy in the production and sale of hybrid rice seeds with tall claims it would boost the production manifold. However, it poses a threat to the major cash crop of Pakistan.

The production of hybrid rice would jack up the import bill of pesticides and fertilisers by almost 50 per cent and the end result would not be so much rosy, agriculture experts said.

A study conducted 15 years after the introduction of hybrid rice seed in China, the role model of this latest production technology, showed no significant difference between yields from hybrid rice and conventional crop, despite the fact that the former required 31 per cent more pesticides and 43 per cent additional fertilisers.

Besides, this technology is not for small farmers as its cost is high. “The cost of hybrid seed is 10 to 15 times higher than ordinary seeds of rice, which discourages poor farmers from taking advantage of the new technology,” said another study conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The study found that outbreak of diseases such as Downey Mildew, False Smut and Kernel Smut occurred frequently in areas cultivated with hybrid rice. This pushes up use of pesticides and the Chinese survey reveals any increase in yield resulting from the sowing of hybrid seeds was partly offset by additional chemical inputs.

A hurdle in the way of hybrid rice production in China is the breeding process itself. This production process is labour and skill-intensive and yields are low at around 2 metric tonnes per hectare.

Hybrid rice presents an even more serious threat. It is an extremely uniform crop and varieties available in Asia rely exclusively on a single wild and only a handful of different maintainer or restorer lines. In China, where hybrid rice covers about 50 per cent of rice land, there has been a 46-fold decrease in production of local varieties being grown over the last 40 years.

It is interesting to note that multinationals, which dominate private hybrid rice research and development activities, are also the world’s biggest pesticide and biotechnology companies. Within a few years, the largest pesticide companies of the world have become oligopolies in most seed sectors.

During the last two years, sales of these companies in the seed industry have topped $20 billion. Furthermore, these companies control around 80 per cent of all research and development activities in agriculture biotechnology. In India alone, Monsanto and Friends are making additional sales of $450-500 million per year thanks to hybrid rice seed.

The production of hybrid rice may also lead to increased calls for deregulation of the international seed trade. This has already begun to happen. Hybrid rice seeds developed by companies in India are exported to Bangladesh and Burma. Such cross-border flows would discourage the development of national industries, but multinational seed companies, with presence in many countries, could achieve substantial cost savings through economies of scale by concentrating their breeding activities in one or two countries.

The multinationals are using micro-credit as a tool to give a boost to hybrid rice seeds in Bangladesh.
MGR Archive 13.5.2007
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