Bayer Crop Science (BCS) is planning to introduce hybrid varieties of high-yielding and disease-resistant vegetable seeds into the India market. According to Johannes D Rossouw, head, vegetables (research and development), BCS, sweet corn, cabbage, cucumber, watermelon, and onion seeds will be introduced in India. “Large focus for us at Bayer in India, from a base research and development perspective, is really to bring tailored products and solutions to smallholder farmers,” Rossouw told FE in an email interaction.
In the last couple of years, BCS has released hybrid varieties of tomato, pepper, okra and gourd in the country. The global major is currently working on developing new genetics, which it wants to bring into the Indian market through various scientific methods such as conventional plant breeding, plant pathology, molecular breeding, predictive breeding etc for faster development of hybrid vegetable seed varieties.
Besides offering a number of hybrid seed varieties, BCS is also focusing on developing solutions for protecting crops from insects and diseases. Rossouw said despite having a small landholding, farmers in India are progressive in adopting new technologies quickly.
In September 2019, the National Company Law Tribunal had approved the merger of Monsanto India with BCS. In June 2018, Bayer AG had announced acquisition of US-based biotech major Monsanto for $ 63 billion. So far as the use of technologies in crop production is concerned, BCS is aiming to use India’s germplasm collection and global breeding pipelines to accelerate hybrid seed development. BCS is bullish about ‘gene editing’ technology, which is really at the core of the breeding technology for faster development of hybrid seeds in the country that would improve the farmers’ profitability.
“We can get that to a point where seed companies, including us, have the ability to use that in their breeding programmes, to again accelerate the products we develop to improve the profitability for growers,” according to Rossouw.
The government in March had exempted certain types of genome-edited crops from the stringent bio-safety regulations applicable to genetically-modified (GM) crops. The move is expected to widen the use of this technology and accelerate genetic improvement of crops in the country.
The ministry of environment and forest in a notification in March had exempted site directed nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2 genomes from Rules 7-11 of the Environment Protection Act, thus allowing it to avoid a long process for approval of GM crops through the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). According to KC Bansal, former director, National Bureau of Plant Genetics Resources, the conventional breeding technique takes eight–10 years for development of new agricultural crop varieties while through genome-editing, the new varieties could be developed in two to three years.
Last year, a group of eminent agriculture scientists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to keep genome-editing technology outside the purview of GEAC. In the case of GM technology, applicants have to apply to the GEAC, which follows time-consuming testing methods along with states. Till now, cotton is the only GM crop that has been approved for commercial cultivation in the country.