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October 13, 2019

Nepotism in seed registration engenders cotton slump


October 13, 2019

LAHORE: Crouching cotton production stems from lopsided seed regulatory framework that leads to supply of low-yielding varieties in the fields, people who know the ropes said on Saturday.

Various stakeholders who want to remain anonymous told The News that one of the key reasons of cotton crop disaster is faulty seed registration process.

They said the public sector-dominant seed regulation mechanism creates hindrance in the fair registration process, hurting a level-playing field.

“Seed registration process has been marred by conflict of interest as public sector breeders have monopolised regulatory framework,” a breeder from private sector said. For instance, half of the 14-member expert committee of the Punjab Seed Council, a premium regulatory institution, comprise of seed breeders from public sector, while public sector institutions occupy the remaining seats in the committee. Seed research institutions represented by these members are directly competing with private seed developers and marketing companies, he added.

The breeder said the members approve their own varieties and “at times block registration of private seed companies at their own sweet will”.

The expert committee has the mandate to shortlist candidate varieties for subsequent final approval by the Punjab Seed Council.

The breeder said this is a common practice as there is no representation of private seed companies with equal powers/rights in the expert committee and other similar forums.

Another industry official, strongly criticising lacunas in seed regulatory mechanism, said, failure of this year’s cotton crop is a defeat of “public sector cotton seed mafia that are always busy in approving their own low-yielding varieties”.

“How come these seed breeders act like competent authority for approving their own varieties and rejecting others,” he said. “If we examine public sector varieties of last three years that were approved as per the characteristics submitted for approval, they hardly yield any considerable production in the open fields.”

Conversely, he said good cotton varieties are available with the private sector, which can be examined on the field. They produce wonderful results with a couple of sprays during the ongoing disastrous season, he added.

Secretary Punjab Seed Council Ghazanfar Ali argued that a complete level-playing field is available to the private sector in seed business. The committee is not a regulatory body, he added.

Ali, however, did not contradict the specific allegations raised by the private companies about the regulatory framework and poor performance of the government’s cotton seed varieties. But, he said the system can’t run as per desires of private companies, terming them contradictory to the law.

A trader said the public sector departments could not play any positive role in locally introducing high-yielding genetically-modified organism cotton seed developed by multinationals. They are silent spectator to the disastrous cotton decline, he lamented.

“There is no iota of sign if there is Naya Pakistan in the seed regulatory framework,” a member in Seed Association of Pakistan (SAP), representing private businesses, said.

“We are going to produce almost half of what was initially aimed by the high-ups,” he added, referring to the initial official cotton estimate of 15 million bales.

A study conducted by the Punjab government said seed quality is a major issue and supply of certified seeds has been very low. Bt gene and its toxicity in available seed varieties is questionable following introduction of Bt cotton for more than a decade as toxin level in the field remained lower than the threshold level. The study stressed the need of supply of certified seeds, implementation and enforcement of laws in the entire seed registration process.