The agricultural sector is considered the backbone of India. A majority of our population is dependent on agriculture, directly or indirectly, for their livelihood, food, fodder, and fuel.
One of the significant hurdles that repeatedly plague this sector is the quality of seeds reaching farmers. A seed is a primary input for agriculture and bears the responsibility for crop production, quality, and contribution of all other inputs. It is the fundamental block of agriculture.
It is estimated that the direct contribution of quality seed alone has a positive impact on overall production by approximately 15-20%.
However, the circulation of poor quality and spurious seeds is rampant in India. There is a massive market for seeds, primarily for cultivation and direct seed uses like consumption for protein & nutrient content, extracting oils for both pharmaceutical and skin-care industries, and, most importantly, to grow the next set of seeds for cultivation & distribution. Poor seed quality can significantly affect crop health and seed value. According to research, 65% of seeds sold in the market are unlabeled, implying that the source and quality are unverified.
The Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), a state agriculture university, approached TraceX and other agritech startups to attack this widespread issue. The agricultural scientists are working closely with the startups to build a pilot study for digital tech applications in agriculture. TraceX was roped in for the seed value chain traceability scope.
Process of the Seed Supply chain
To understand the challenges that stem from the lack of seed traceability, we first need to understand the process followed. The seed supply chain goes through multiple stages.
The process of development of certified seeds begins from its distant parent called Nucleus Seed. It is a genetically pure seed without any impurity. All physical observations such as plant size, growth features, color and shape of various parts, days taken in maturity, etc., are considered and recorded. They are only grown in small quantities, approximately 50-100 grains at a time, to monitor the performance.
Breeder seeds are produced from the nucleus seed under the careful supervision of a qualified plant breeder in a research institute of Agricultural University. The process is monitored by a joint inspection team of scientists and officials of the certification agency and National Seed Corporation. The genetic purity of the breeder seed crop should be maintained at 100%.
Offspring of the Breeder seed, which can be traced to Breeder seed, are called Foundation Seeds. These are produced by State Farm Corporation of India, National Seed Corporation, and State seed Corporations under the technical control of qualified plant breeders. The genetic purity of foundation seeds should be maintained at 99.5%. The State Seed Corporations produce the foundation seeds to suit local demands.
This is the last stage, where the seeds reach local farmers for cultivation. Certified seed is the progeny of foundation seed, and its production is supervised and approved by a certification agency. These seeds are usually produced by the State and National Seeds Corporations on the farms of progressive growers. The genetic purity should be maintained at 99%.
ICAR shoulders the primary responsibility of food safety. They plan the required food quantity, considering the population size and consumption rate, and accordingly, the seed production is executed. ICAR takes an Intent of Production from companies who want to grow, and based on this, they reach out to universities who research and multiply the good quality seeds. All ICAR sold seeds are certified. Post this, the seeds are then bagged and marketed for commercial use.
However, even though the process is meticulously followed, plans to ensure the best quality crop are often thwarted by the circulation of spurious seeds and other challenges.
What are the challenges in the Seed Supply chain?
As established above, seeds are the results of scientific research bred by scientific breeders. Scientists have tied up with institutions such as PJTSAU, take the core variety seed, and hybridize it, preferably without genetic modification.
The objective is significant; scientists first identify critical constraints and challenges such as easy susceptibility to diseases, drought, or early maturity. They then get the right germplasm or cross between different varieties with the favorable attributes they are looking for.
Crosses are made with local materials/crops mainly to reduce growing time and glycemic index, ensure high fibrous content and get longer grain.
These seeds are then sampled, tested, certified, and distributed to farmers, who use them for the next crop season. All this is done to ensure the best quality of seeds, generating better revenue for farmers.
However, many loopholes and challenges were brought to the forefront during our pilot with PJTSAU, affecting farmer prosperity and seed quality.
- Telangana Sona, a resilient hybrid rice variety, was invented in PJTSAU. It is characterized by excellent quality, high yield per acre, reduced growth time (120 days instead of 150-160 days). The University began growing and selling it to farmers for cultivation. Soon, consumers also grew fond of the variety. This led to a meteoric rise in demand, resulting in the need to speed up production since the seed was needed in abundance. Due to this, many private players started selling rice seed, claiming it was Telangana Sona with absolutely no proof or traceability, making a windfall profit in the short run.
- It is a prevalent practice for farmers to keep aside 10% of their harvested seed for cultivation while the remaining is sold. For instance, if 1 ton of paddy is harvested, 100 kgs are kept aside for growing next time. This becomes a challenge when the produce is small, and farmers may not have enough seed saved for subsequent use. If they have a large land and their seeds aren’t enough.
- Due to the high demand for quality seeds and low market supply, plenty of companies indulge in hoarding these seeds, selling them later at high prices, causing numerous issues for the farmers.
- Even tagged seed bags are often tampered with and adulterated with low-quality seeds, causing heavy losses to farmers when the seeds do not germinate.
- The absence of digitization in the seed industry is another concern. Since there is no verified seed or system, farmers are made susceptible to buying genetically modified or low-quality non-certified seeds prone to diseases, weeds, and insects, unlike the healthy, high-quality seeds that come from the universities. They also struggle to keep a record of their seed production.
- Currently, India produces ~3.80 million tonnes of seeds, while facing a domestic requirement of 3.50 million tonnes. The surplus is exported, but traders face multiple authenticities and quality issues.
- Recalls of spurious or poor-quality seeds are pretty regular and are faced by even the most reputed brands and most cautious manufacturers. This makes it imperative for organizations, and players across the value chain, to have a recall management plan in place.
- The certification process is time-consuming, and breeders are often impacted by the time it takes the relevant authorities to complete the certification process. Delays mean that many developed seed varieties can not be availed for multiplication and commercialization.
The Solution offered by TraceX
Here’s where TraceX came to the rescue. To accelerate the crop revolution in the State, the Telangana government reached out to us to pilot our Blockchain-based traceability solution in collaboration with PJTSAU. In coordination with the Agriculture Department and PJTSAU, the IT department introduced this technology to the Telangana State Seed Supplies Corporation. Through this, the government aims to monitor the supply and quality of seeds in the State.
As part of the Solution, these are the main challenges that TraceX targeted to address:
- Distribution & Traceability of Foundation Seeds
- Track and Trace the production of certified seeds
- Post-harvest buy-back from SSC for Quality testing
- Packing and Labeling with QR code
Our proposed solution involved the following steps.
We began working with PJTSAU and their centers.
Once the annual quantity of seeds to be produced was decided, PJTSAU used our application to map and track the following steps:
- Farmer Registration and Identification of which set of farmers will cultivate the different seed classes (breeder, foundation, etc.). The University also already had a pre-recorded database of past growers, who were then digitally registered.
- Once the farmers were registered and selected to cultivate different seed classes, TraceX stepped into Geo-map the farmlands, including a location survey and field inspection. All field and soil conditions are recorded on the TraceX software.
- The University then shared the Package of Practice with the respective farmers, which is a set of guidelines and information needed for the careful cultivation of the seeds. These guidelines were made available and accessible to all farmers using the TraceX application.
- Crop-Mapping and Data Capture was done using the Solution, after which scientists analyzed the progress of each farmer and seed batch.
- During the time of harvest, the TraceX solution helped farmers and scientists record the date, time, and harvest conditions. The seeds were then dispatched to the universities.
- Once the universities received the nucleus, breeder, and foundation seeds, they resorted to germination testing (the percentage of seed germinating within the stipulated period) using samples from each batch. Details of the analysis are also reported on the application.
- If the quality of the seed samples meets the agreed standards, the University buys the seed in bulk from farmers and then certifies them.
- This is followed by Seed processing – treating, cleaning, sorting, grading, and then selecting only those seeds that match the highest quality standards.
- In this case, the universities then tie up with external accreditation agencies, the Telangana State Organic Seed Certification Agency, who will check and certify the quality of the seed based on germination, genetic quality, and other set parameters.
- Once certified, the seeds are distributed to a broader circle of farmers for crop production or seed production, based on the requirement.
- Through the TraceX Solution, it is ensured that every bag of rice (25 kg each) is sampled and certified, and then each bag is sealed after adding a non-tearable certified tag, which contains a unique QR code.
- Using the QR code, our traceability solution redirects the interested party to all available details about the rice bag, including source seed, quality, date of harvest, and certification authority.
- The seeds are now available for marketing to farmers, universities, and private players, laced with complete traceability and authenticity, all at the scan of a code.
What were the results?
The TraceX pilot with PJTSAU covered
- 38 farmers
- 4 SRTCs
- 6 varieties of rice
- 150 acres of farmland
With our Solution, the university and associated players of the value chain could reap quite a few benefits.
Since the seeds are now certified and can be traced back to an authentic source, meeting export requirements has become much easier and quicker. The international seed export fraternity can easily verify details like genetic makeup, trueness of variety, germination percentage, purity, vigor, and appearance.
Farmers are of paramount importance in seed breeding. The blockchain-based traceability solution dramatically improves the process for farmers. In this system, information is decentralized and stored at every supply point, where the farmer can digitally trace the origin of seeds and the movement to distributors and retailers. With this digitization and traceability, there will be full-proof evidence of the quality of seed, which will help farmers claim fair prices for their produce and avoid being cheated.
Traceability also allows smallholder farmers to apply for credit facilities. Since they have verified proof of their seed quality and journey, as opposed to earlier, farmers have been constrained by the lack of credit options, limiting their access to good quality seeds, fertilizers, and other necessary equipment. This often led to farmers resorting to traditional alternatives like recycling seeds from previous harvests, where the seed quality is not verified.
High-quality crops start from healthy seeds and lead to a safe output. When the farmers have access to robust, disease and pest-resistant seeds, the quality can make a huge difference, thus improving crop health and its value. The authenticity of the seed also drives up demand from distributors, retailers, and even end consumers. Certified products have started gaining momentum, as today’s consumer is aware. Anyone who can afford food wants to be well-informed and learn everything about what they consume.
Traceability empowers not only the consumers but also Agri-companies to trace the journey of the seed. Tracking the pedigree of the seed has helped Agri companies maintain trust and transparency. On certification, the generated QR code allows any interested party to trace all production parameters.
Tampering with the recorded data is now very difficult, thanks to the blockchain layer of the TraceX Solution. The information is decentralized and is stored at every touchpoint, implying that any discrepancy can be traced to its source. The certificates of the verified seeds are stored using blockchain, ensuring tamper-proof certificates. Every detail, including the issuer, timestamp, inspection details of all stages, is maintained for future reference.
The demand for genetic verification and traceability in seed markets continues to grow. During our experience with PJTSUA, TraceX was able to pick up the finer nuances of the seed industry. After a successful pilot project, the paddy seeds are now traceable and authentic. We are grateful to the University and all the concerned authorities for giving us this opportunity, which has been a great learning and experience.
The entire seed market needs a reformation and transformation, and traceability is one of the primary keys to improvement.
Many widespread issues like poor value chain monitoring, once discrepant processes, high error rates, and tampering will significantly reduce with digital interventions in place. The seed industry has a long way ahead, and TraceX is here to help.