Intl Seed Firms See India As Best Bet For Agri-input Business

Pune, December 22: | Updated: Dec 23 2002, 05:30am hrs
The Indian landscape could soon be teeming with international seed companies. It may account for a small part of the agri-input business but growth prospects in the seeds business is alluring enough for international players to open shop here in the hope of reaping a rich harvest. Their participation in large numbers in the recently concluded Kisan fair in Pune was indicative of their interest.

Among them were the California-headquartered $450 million Seminis Inc through its Indian company and Seminis Vegetable Seeds (India) Ltd. Seminis India is planning a big launch by April 2003. There was Nunhems Seeds Pvt Ltd, which is owned by Nunza BV of Netherlands and Syngenta Inida Ltd (Seeds Division) which attracted a lot of interest.

Seminis has its corporate office in Pune and the R&D, processing and production base in Aurangabad. Currently, a bulk of the seeds is being imported with most of it coming from Thailand but a local production programme is in progress for cucumber, bitter gourd and brinjal. KK Kandge, divisional sales manager (Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh), said the company turnover for year 2002 would be about Rs 40 crore and it could go up to Rs 60 crore next year.

Seminis was created by merging several seed companies across the globe and consolidating them under the Seminis brand. The Nasdaq-listed Seminis focuses on the vegetable and fruit seed market. Seminis produces seeds in 30 countries and operates 50 research and product development stations in 17 countries. The last two years have seen the company investing $100 million on product development while the 2001 research expenditure was $52.4 million.

Nunhems is a fully-integrated vegetable seed company that is developing hybrids targeting the processing sector and also some products for the fresh market. For instance, it has introduced pickling cucumbers to Indian farmers. "About 60 per cent of these seeds has been supplied by Nunhems," said Harendra Singh, deputy general manager, sales & marketing, product development and international business development. Nunhems is working on developing heat and drought-resistant varieties for the Indian markets as water scarcity and unfavourable climate will always remain an issue here, said Mr Singh. Nunhems is exploring the possibility of sourcing chilli from India for the global markets.

Currently, the companys exports are valued at about Rs two crore but this figure will grow significantly, Mr Singh added. Nunhems is using Mahrashtra for developing baby okras for exports. It has research stations in Gurgaon, Kulu and Bangalore while the seed processing centre is in Hyderabad.

Apart from the regular fruits and vegetable seeds, Syngenta is working on introducing sugar beet farming in India. It has already started working with the sugar mills in Western Maharashtra for offering them Sugar Beet as an alternative so Sugar Cane especially during the off seasons and for producing fuel ethanol. Syngenta has an R&D facility at Loni Kand, near Pune and production set-up in Aurangabad. Syngenta officials said that sugar beet has entered the trial phase while for BT cotton the company has got permission only for indoor trials.

This is only the beginning and more players will be looking at India is what the industry feels. Apart from the market, it is also the low-cost development and production possibilities that India offers which is another incentive for companies to consolidate their base here.