Let's talk seeds

We keep hearing all kinds of jargon related to seeds – GM, hybrid, open-pollinated, and so on. What exactly do they mean? To be honest, these are complicated terms and entire chapters and books can be written on them. However, the basics are not too difficult to understand. We thought we’d write a blog post to try and explain these complex terminologies in simple terms. So here we go…

Open Pollinated Variety 

You might have studied open pollination in high school. It is the process of cross-pollinating two of the same variety of plants usually by natural processes such as wind, birds etc. This results in seeds that produce similar kind of plants. Open pollination process is the oldest and most natural way of producing seeds. Throughout history, farmers have carefully nurtured this method by isolating, selecting and replanting open-pollinated seed varieties that have beneficial traits such as drought resistance, naturally pest and disease resistant, highly adaptable to local conditions and many would agree that they taste “better” and have a pleasant aroma. Popularly, they are also known as the “desi” seeds or inbred seeds which are indigenous. The best thing about desi seeds is that farmer herself is the plant breeder and the seeds can be produced and multiplied on their own farm. They can be saved and used for the next 6-7 years. 

Hybrid Seeds

The next type of seeds is hybrid seeds. These are produced by controlled pollinating of two slightly different but related plant varieties. Grapefruit, sweet corn, seedless watermelon are some examples of crops produced from hybrid seeds. One of the big advantages of hybrid seeds is that the time required to arrive at a specific trait can be reduced by at least 3-4 times compared to open pollination. You must have heard that hybrid seeds are high yielding i.e. their productivity is significantly higher (this means more crops for the farmers and hence more profits). During the green revolution, a lot of focus was put on developing hybrid varieties of wheat and paddy for maximizing production. On the flip side, they’re prone to diseases and pests, and because of this, they require additional nutrition and water and hence are resource-heavy. Hybrid seeds are also costlier and cannot be saved and reused. This also makes for a wonderful business opportunity for pesticide industries who not surprisingly are the very same companies who also supply the hybrid seeds to the farmer. So, X company supplies hybrid seeds to the farmer which can’t be reused and hence have to be purchased every year. They also require a lot of pesticides which again company X provides. End result – “we” eat crops laced with chemicals while farmers’ input costs are rising every year. Hybrid seeds are also blamed for threatening agrobiodiversity by several leading NGOs.

On the other side, the argument goes like this – hybrids are bred for pest and disease resistance and are more tolerant to soil degradation. Also, they result in 20-30% more yield, mature faster and thus give better incomes to farmers. The Indian government promotes hybrid crops under the national food security mission. The hybrid market in India is huge and most common hybrids are maize, fruits, vegetables and rice. 

In our research, we found that there are a lot of contradicting scientific findings and narratives. While several studies show that desi varieties are more pest-resistant, contradictory studies and opinions are also found. Because of the increased use of pesticides on hybrid seeds, they are also thought of as less nutritious and even harmful.

Genetically Engineered Seeds

The third variety of seeds are genetically modified or genetically engineered seeds. Combining or splicing together genes from different organisms in the lab (without actually sexually breeding them) is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified (GM or GMO),” “genetically engineered (GE),” or “transgenic”. For example, the well-known variety of cotton, Bt cotton, made by Monsanto, is produced by combining genetic material from a bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (bt), which kills certain pests by destroying their gut lining. While this sure has its set of advantages – the obvious one being a more pest-resistant crop, it has its share of downsides too. While Monsanto claims that Bt is destroyed during the process of digestion in humans, it has been found in the gut lining and blood of humans. How extensive the damage is, is something we probably may never know. On the plus side, Indian scientists recently developed a biofortified wheat variety with high protein, zinc and iron content. This is done to reduce nutritional deficiencies in the country and result in an overall healthy population. 

We’ve intentionally kept this blog more informative than opinionated. But we’d love to hear your thoughts. So, what do you think? Are hybrid varieties lacking in nutrition? Will you prefer consuming GMO food products? Why or why not? Do let us know in the comments. 


  1. Its a good analysis of seeds and their types of propagation. Challenge is when cultivable land is restricted, how do we feed our growing population which will be 11 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now.

    Seed technology and other area of technology in Agronomy, soil and nutrients management is utmost important

    Cautious evaluation and use of technology like GMO or hybrid are essential


Post a Comment

Popular Posts