It is India’s poorest district with over 70 per cent Adivasi and Dalit population — and yet a booming market for multinational and large domestic seed companies.
The likes of Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer, Tata-Metahelix, US Agriseeds, Shriram Bioseed, JK Seeds and Advanta are reckoned to have sold 600-650 tonnes of hybrid paddy seeds in Nabarangpur district this kharif season. At an average of six kg planted per acre, these would have covered more than one lakh acres, or 40 per cent of Nabarangpur’s estimated paddy area of 100,684 hectares (2.5 lakh acres) this kharif season. This is way above the 5 per cent share of hybrids in the country’s cultivated rice area.
“Traditional/local varieties account for barely a tenth of the district’s total paddy area today. The balance 90 per cent is under open-pollinated high-yielding varieties (HYV) developed by public sector institutions and privately-bred hybrids. Within the 90 per cent, there could be a roughly 60:40 split between HYVs and hybrids,” says Sushil Haldar, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Nabarangpur.
Such high levels of hybrid penetration may seem counterintuitive in a poor and backward district, dominated by Adivasi tribal communities such as Bhatra, Gond and Kandha.
It is even more pronounced in maize, where hybrid seeds coverage for Nabarangpur is 100 per cent, as against the national average of 60 per cent. In 2013, when acreages peaked, multinationals led by Monsanto, DuPont-Pioneer, Limagrain and Syngenta — besides Shriram Bioseed, Kaveri Seeds and the Thailand-based Charoen Popkhand — reportedly sold 1,300-1,400 tonnes of hybrid maize seeds in the district. At 8 kg per acre, these would have got planted in 160,000-175,000 acres.
The widespread adoption of hybrid technology may owe partly to aggressive marketing by firms — clearly noticeable from the posters of various hybrid seed brands plastered across walls and roadside trees across the district.
But that isn’t the sole reason.
“With Sopori (an indigenous rice variety), I get only 10-12 quintals of paddy per acre, whereas it is 18-20 quintals from Pooja (an HYV bred by the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack) and 25 quintals from Dhaanya (the hybrid brand of Tata-Metahelix),” says Prabhunath Pujari, who has a five-acre farm near the Kosagumuda block headquarters. This Adivasi grower has, in the current season, planted Pooja paddy in three acres and the Dhaanya DRH-748 hybrid in the remaining two acres.
Higher yield apart, farmers also cite lower labour requirement as a major advantage with hybrid paddy.
“Since the seed rate is six kg per acre, you can have a plant-to-plant distance of 10 inches and it takes only 10 labourers to transplant one acre in a day. In the case of varieties, you need to plant 20 kg, which means a spacing of just four inches between plants which requires four times the labour,” says Praful Kumar.
Nayak, who has a 25 acre farm in Badambada village of Kosagumuda block. Nayak, who belongs to the Mirgan Dalit caste, grows Bayer CropScience’s Arize-6444 Gold hybrid and a publicly-bred HYV, MTU-1001, on 10 acres each. On the five remaining acres, he cultivates Haldigoti, a traditional paddy purely for his family’s consumption. “It costs Rs 1,600 to plant six kg of hybrid paddy seeds, compared to Rs 320 for 20 kg of MTU-1001. But this is compensated by higher yields and lower labour requirement. I plant MTU-1001 only because it is more disease-resistant,” he says.
Whatever might be the driving factors, one thing is clear: Nabarangpur’s farmers have taken to hybrid technology as much, if not more, than their counterparts in ostensibly richer and less backward parts of India.