Seed stocks to be beefed up as part of El Nino contingency preparation

New Delhi: The government is increasing kharif seed reserves to 4% of total seeds in the country — up from the usual 1% level — as part of a contingency plan for drought-like situations amid El Nino predictions.

Each year, the government sets targets for states to keep seeds of various crops under the National Seed Reserve Scheme in the event of droughts or any other exceptional weather event. Stocks in the reserve are not distributed until 15 August.

“The sowing with normal seeds goes on till 15 August for the kharif season. Post that, if a drought-like situation arises or there is a probability of drought, the government through the National Seeds Corporation and state seed corporation distributes short-duration crop seed varieties to farmers as per their demand or the plan of the state,» an agriculture ministry official said.

A short-duration cover crop is grown or managed for 45 to 60 days. Cover crops are not intended for harvest and are managed to maintain and enhance the sustainability of a production system by improving soil fertility, water quality, and lead to the suppression of weeds, soil erosion and pests.

The government maintains varieties of seeds for all crops, including paddy, soybean, cotton and millets like ragi and sorghum in the kharif season. The share in the reserve is 1% in kharif season and 1% in rabi season. “But this year, keeping in view of some early predictions of having less than normal rainfall, the department has increased the reserve limit from 1% to 4% for kharif as we heavily depend on rainfall for kharif crops,» the official said.

“We have fixed the quantity for states crop-wise, which has to be in the reserve. We requested the states on 18 May to send us replies on which crop seeds they would like to keep in their reserve as an alternative if a drought-like situation arises,» the official added.

The target for the 2023-24 (April-September) kharif season seed reserves is 640,110 quintals, of which 7,900 quintals would be foundation seeds, 564,310 quintals certified seeds, and 67,900 quintals certified seeds for Northeastern states. The reserves ensure that there is no shortage of seeds for sowing in any part of the country. They act as a buffer to take care of farmers‘ sowing requirements.

For northeastern states, the agency serving the region is the National Seeds Corporation (NSC). Besides those states, if any state requires seeds and doesn’t have adequate stocks, it can make a request to NSC. If seeds remain in stock in any season, they are sold in the open market.

India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicts El Nino conditions to form in July, and to be felt in the second half of the June-September Southwest monsoon season, that is in August and September.

As part of its drought management plan amid forecasts of El Nino compromising monsoon rains, the agriculture ministry has formulated contingency plans in 650 districts. Increasing seed reserves is part of this plan.

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