Bhutan can now import improved variety seeds without much hassle from six countries in the region.

The country joined the Seeds Without Borders protocol with the agriculture secretary Rinzin Dorji formally signing the agreement on June 13 in Thimphu.

Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are the other members of the network agreement.

The agreement initiated by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was first signed between Bangladesh, and India in 2013. The agreement started with rice seeds. The seed agreement covers a number of rice-based crops such as maize, wheat, vegetables, pulses and other crops with the possibility to include many more in future.

Agriculture director Kinlay Tshering said that the seed sharing agreement offers a unique opportunity to exchange high yielding varieties.

“Countries with limited resources and technical capacity to develop varieties, like Bhutan, will benefit the most by accessing seeds from similar agro-ecological conditions from partner countries,” Kinlay Tshering said.

Agriculture officials said breeding and development takes time and it’s a continuous process to keep pace with the breeding techniques in the situation of evolving biotic and abiotic stresses as well as emerging needs of various stakeholders.

“The agreement includes both inbreed and hybrid varieties,” she said.

She said that in an increasingly restrictive regime of accessing crop germplasm due to intellectual property rights related concerns, the agreement is a rare opportunity for like-minded countries to share commercial crop varieties to enhance crop production and food and nutrition security.

The vision is to ultimately have countries freely share their improved crop varieties of seeds with each other for the benefit of farmers, producers and consumers, especially the disadvantaged population.

“We’ll take advantage of the agreement for the advancement of the agriculture sector, and food and nutrition security,” director Kinlay Tshering said.

The representative from IRRI country office in Bangladesh, Humnath Bhandari signed the agreement as a witness.

The Bhutan-IRRI relationship began in early 1980s with the project on rice farming system.

The IRRI shuttle-breeding programme helped to bring different rice germplasms from IRRI Philippines and tested, developed and released some varieties of seed in Bhutan.

“Bhutan can bring suitable seeds from other countries, test and release them here which will save time, and energy resources,” he said.

Rice specialist with agriculture research centre in Bajo, Mahesh Ghimerey said that this agreement does not mean that other countries would take endemic Bhutanese varieties and commercialise.

“Within this agreement, there are protocols on how the seeds can be shared and what member countries cannot do,” he said.

The agreement will not cover movement of seeds of genetically modified varieties.

Any pertaining Intellectual Property Rights issues will be discussed through consultations and mutual agreements.

The member country, in case of unforeseen circumstances, reserves that right to withdraw with mutual consent.

Tshering Palden