Seeds of change

The NSC has transformed itself from the usual non-profit-earning PSU into a vibrant entity. Private sector seed companies have, till now, had a virtual monopoly over the production and sale of seeds, mostly hybrid seeds, of high-value crops. This was chiefly because the public sector seed producers, besides being fewer in number, remained focused right from the beginning on the production of seeds of low-value but high-volume crops (basically cereals), where profits were low though the quantities to be handled were large. Besides, public sector units (PSUs) made little attempt to keep pace with time. However, the much-needed change in the public seed sector is coming about now with the largest player, the National Seeds Corporation (NSC), adopting a corporate culture and deploying state-of-the-art technology to produce seeds even of high-value crops and hybrids. Indeed, as could be expected, this change in the work culture has transformed the NSC from the usual non-profit-earning PSU into a vibrant entity striving to find a place among the mini-Ratnas, if not the Navratnas. The headquarters of the NSC and four of its regional units in Bhopal, Jaipur, Secunderabad and Bangalore, have already acquired the ISO 9001-2000 certificate and the remaining regional units are in the process of doing so. No wonder then that, after a gap of 32 years, the NSC paid a 5 per cent dividend, amounting to a little over Rs 1 crore, to the government in November last. This was made possible by a massive 46 per cent growth in business in the past one year alone. Its post-tax profits jumped by a whopping 200 per cent in 2006-07. Indeed, the man behind this incredible transformation is the present chairman and managing director B B Pattanaik. "I would be able to declare a much higher dividend for the current year,' asserts an enthusiastic Pattanaik. He has not only motivated the aging employees of this 45-year-old corporation for better performance but has also taken several new initiatives to be in a position to rub shoulders with the well-run private sector seed companies, many of which now have business tie-ups with the NSC. "I am not interested in increasing competition with the corporate houses; I am more for partnerships,' says Pattanaik. About a dozen big houses, including some multinational companies like Monsanto and Cargill and domestic players like ITC, ECL Agro-Tech and Sheel Biotech, have forged strategic business alliances with the NSC. Most of these companies use the vast marketing network of the NSC for the sale of their seeds and other farm inputs. The Indian Oil Corporation, on the other hand, sells the NSC seeds through its network of Kisan Seva Kendras (farmers' service centres). Significantly, the NSC is now very much into the production of hybrid seeds, organic seeds and even tissue culture plantlets. It is multiplying the seeds of mustard hybrid DMH-1-DHARA evolved through biotechnological interventions by the Delhi University; as also those of the pigeon pea (arhar) hybrid, ICPH 2671, evolved by the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Besides, the NSC would soon begin supplying gladiolus bulbs for flower cultivation. The NSC's tissue culture unit with a capacity to churn out annually about two lakh test tube-raised plantlets for propagation of the banana is coming up in Bhubaneswar and may become operational by the next month. For research and development back-up, the NSC gets support from the vast agricultural research network of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the state agriculture universities. This helps the NSC to add, on an average, around 20 new varieties and hybrids to its product range every year. Significantly, the NSC is now playing a catalytic role in the expansion of seed production, processing and storage infrastructure in the private sector under a government scheme involving 25 per cent subsidy for this purpose. About 120 projects for the creation of seed processing capacity worth 23 lakh quintals and seed storage capacity of 9 lakh quintals have already been approved. A total subsidy of Rs 6.94 crore would be paid to the private sector companies which are creating these facilities. For involving more and more farmers in the relatively more lucrative seed production business, the NSC is facilitating the provision of loans to them from the State Bank of India. Besides, it is ploughing back about 2 per cent of its own profits into the activities related to seed production by farmers and other measures as part of its corporate social responsibility initiative.

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