EXPLORING IDEAS AND VIEWS ON ALL ASPECTS OF THE SEED INDUSTRY.
A Growing Market
The global seed market is forecast to reach US$47 billion by 2015, according to a report released by Global Industry Analysts Inc. The United States represents the single largest market for seed, said the report titled Seeds: A Global Strategic Business Report. Demand for seed in the United States is expected to maintain steady growth in the coming years, spurred by the development and launch of a wide range of high-end transgenic and hybrid seeds. The market is also likely to be shaped by a number of favorable factors, such as growing garden and lawn expenditures of consumers, a general shift towards narrow planting of rows and expanding new uses of crops. Europe and Asia-Pacific are the other important seeds markets. Demand for seeds is forecast to be the fastest in Asia-Pacific, which is expected to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 5.0 percent through 2015.
Agriculture is Exciting
“There is a misperception that the agricultural sciences have matured and aren’t as exciting as some of the newer, emerging sciences, such as biotechnology and molecular biology,” says Roger Gast, product development leader for Dow AgroSciences. “But nothing could be further from the truth.”
A Country Divided
India has denied permission for commercial cultivation of BT brinjal—a strain of genetically modified aubergine. This humble vegetable has sharply divided public opinion in the past year, according to a BBC News report: “BT cotton has improved our life. Do not succumb to false propaganda—BT will not harm anybody,” one farmer told the minister. “BT as a protein is highly degradable and doesn’t persist in the environment and hence is not a threat. Chemical pesticides used in regular crops do more damage to environment,” said a pro-BT scientist. The opponents are equally vocal. “The consent of consumers and growers has not been taken into account. BT cotton hasn’t reduced the use of pesticides or chemicals and the yield is not better,” said AS Anand, chairman of the Organic Farming Mission of Karnataka state. “We are not guinea pigs—don’t use us for research,” said activist Ranjit Singh, who claimed that GM crops could cause cancer.
Dollars and Sense
“Eliminating hunger from the face of the Earth requires 44 billion US dollars of official development assistance per year to be invested in infrastructure, technology and modern inputs. This is a small amount if we consider the 365 billion USD of agriculture producer support in OECD countries in 2007, and if we consider the 1,340 billion USD of military expenditures by the world in the same year … naturally, developing countries need to devote themselves more funds from their budgets to agriculture, in line with the sector’s contribution to national GDP, export earnings, income generation and employment. To eradicate hunger, agriculture’s share in government expenditure of low-income food-deficit countries needs to be raised to 10 percent for investment.”—FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
Chinese Seed Industry Booming
China has now become the second largest seed market in the world after the United States, according to information shared at the Third International Conference on Seed Health and Agricultural Development. With improved varieties covering 95 percent of agricultural production and a 40 percent rate of contribution to increasing agricultural output, the farming industry has become a fundamental and strategic industry that promotes agricultural development, ensures stable security in the national cereal supply and efficient delivery of key agricultural products. Chief economist from the Ministry of Agriculture and press spokesman of the ministry, Chen Mengshan, said China will endeavor to:
• highlight the overall development of the industry by forming a complete industrial chainform a new seed industry by connecting all industry links
• insist on maintaining a combination of market competition and policy to fully deploy the initiative of enterprises, and strengthen policy guidance and project inputs
• improve industrial capacity and ensure the capacity of seed production and supply, and security in the stock of seeds for agricultural production
Tackling Liability and Redress
“The agreement to adopt the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress is a major milestone in the global effort to protect life on earth. The unprecedented naming of the new treaty after two cities located in the North and the South sends a clear and strong political message that addressing the challenges facing us today requires a new North–South partnership and cooperation, and calls for a new way of doing business,” says Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, referring to the new treaty reached by the Parties to the Biosafety Protocol at a recent summit in Japan. Named after two cities where the final rounds of negotiations were held, and after more than six years of intense negotiations, the new treaty will establish international rules and procedures for liability and redress in case of damage to biological diversity resulting from living modified organisms.
Flowering Plants Prevent Inbreeding
“Humans have mechanisms to prevent inbreeding that are in part cultural. But a plant can’t just get up and move to the next town to find a suitable, unrelated mate. Some other system must be at work,” says Teh-hui Kao, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and lead researcher of a team that has discovered a large suite of genes in the petunia plant that acts to prevent it from breeding with itself or its close relatives and promotes breeding with unrelated individuals. Kao began to unravel the mystery of what he calls a “non-self recognition system” in the mid-1980s by studying the genetic sequence of petunias. Petunias and many common garden plants are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs, and these reproductive organs are located in close proximity within the flower. This floral anatomy makes it easy for a plant’s pollen to land on itself, resulting in self-fertilization and genetically inferior, inbred offspring. To prevent self-fertilization, many flowering plants, including the petunia, have evolved a strategy called self-incompatibility, or the ability to recognize self and non-self components within the male and female reproductive organs.
The Importance of Bees
“We are losing more than a third of our colonies each winter, but beekeepers are a stubborn, industrious bunch. We split hives, rebound as much as we can each summer, and then just eat our losses. So even these big loss numbers understate the problem,” says beekeeper for 50 years, David Hackenberg, who owns the Buffy Bee honey farm in Florida, United States. “What folks need to understand is that the beekeeping industry, which is responsible for a third of the food we eat, is at a critical threshold.”