From table tennis to the seed industry, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company’s (MAHYCO) Director and Chief Technology Officer Usha Barwale Zehr shares why plant breeding innovation is important.

Dr. Usha Barwale Zehr

Seed World: What are you reading?
Usha Barwale Zehr:
“How Asia Works” by Joe Studwell.

SW: Favorite hobbies?
Playing table tennis and traveling to new places.

SW: What makes a good leader?
A leader who inspires the team to give their best. A good leader is a friend, mentor and boss — all in one. Also, a good leader pushes the team to achieve more than what they feel they can.

SW: Why do you believe plant breeding innovation is important?
Innovation has been critical to bringing better products to market. It has come in many forms in the past and continues to be the No. 1 driver of long-term sustained success for any company. As we think about plant breeding innovation today, it opens up opportunities to create new products like never before. With plant breeding innovation, we are able to bring farmers products that address their challenges in a shorter window of time, in a precise manner and in crops, where for some technologies, the cost has been too high. With editing tools becoming more robust every day, we can bring many benefits to the farmers.

SW: How would you sum up the Indian seed industry?
The Indian seed industry has been able to serve the Indian farmer effectively in some of the key crops. It had major emphasis on hybrids and improved high yielding varieties. It is very diverse and continues to grow to expand the choice of crops as well as geographies, domestically and globally. The opportunity is still very large overall, with room for domestic as well as international business. The crops which the industry works on has also increased. As more global companies have invested in the Indian market, the Indian players have had to increase their focus to compete and provide the best products. As a result, our farmers have more choices when deciding what to plant.

SW: Advantages and disadvantages?
The Indian seed industry is maturing and with that comes some challenges. There is a strong need for clear regulations and policies which encourage innovation for the benefit of the farmers. Investment in research is low, both in the private and public sectors. For us to compete globally, we must invest more in research and our policies need to facilitate that.

SW: What new research are you most excited about?
The idea that we can create a product faster and more precisely using some of the new plant breeding innovation tools, such as gene editing, is very exciting. Also, it opens up opportunity to work on some of the smaller acreage crops as the cost of developing products is significantly less. The one challenge we have now is policy guidance on how these products will be regulated. Molecular breeding, while not new, continues to expand in our research efforts and facilitate product development.