Two decades ago, it was just a component of Multimode. Today, Lal Teer is a giant brand in the seed market. Growing with the agro sector over the years, Lal Teer now has at least 200 varieties of vegetable and paddy seeds in its innovation portfolio.
Decades back, getting seeds for vegetables, paddy and other crops was a struggle for farmers.
The state-owned Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation was the lone source with its limited seed stocks distributed through a countrywide network of dealers.
Farmers had to preserve seeds from their harvests, and yield was a matter of luck as seed quality was not guaranteed.
It was not until the 1990s when farmers' access to varieties of seeds widened with the private sector entering the area.
Lal Teer Seed Limited was one of the frontrunners in the turnaround of Bangladesh's seed sector developing seeds suitable for the soil and climate conditions.
The company, which started seed production in Bangladesh as the first private company in 1995, has so far invented 190 new seed varieties through extensive research.
With its business growth, the company expanded its research area in seed development – ranging from vegetables, food grains to livestock breed.
The company has also developed 20 new varieties of vegetables and paddy that can survive adverse environmental effects. They include tomato, eggplant, green chili, and bitter gourd.
The seed company continues to develop more varieties through research in coastal areas. The company started research on seed varieties in 2007.
The company has set up a saline breeding and testing centre at Sanyasi Bazaar in Bagerhat to increase the effectiveness of the varieties developed for highly saline coastal areas.
Lal Teer is implementing two projects – the GEOBIS and Saline-tolerant Vegetable Cultivation, funded by the Dutch government.
The Lal Teer-GEOBIS platform connects farmers with satellite data through SMS and gives them advance weather warnings. An app has been developed and a call centre has been opened to advise registered farmers on taking precautions against climate adversities and pest attacks.
The main objectives of the second project are to develop suitable varieties, ensure proper use of water, agricultural management, and take new varieties to a commercial level in the 19 coastal districts where salinity in soil and water is constantly increasing. The company is also researching eight new varieties of seeds to cultivate in brackish water and land.
Osman Haruni, senior policy adviser at the Netherlands Embassy in Bangladesh, told The Business Standard, "The Netherlands always works on technology and knowledge transfer to Bangladesh. Lal Teer will mainly work on developing varieties and their commercial production. And at this time of climate change, there is no alternative to working with 'Climate Smart Agriculture Production'."
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, in 1994, per capita consumption of vegetables in the country was 42 grams against a requirement of 225 grams. Now, the amount of consumption has risen to around 150 grams because of increased production. In the last fiscal year, vegetable production in the country reached close to 20 million tonnes.
Seed producers say the proliferation of hybrid seeds and the year-round process of vegetable production have played a major role in ensuring the country's food security.
With 100 high-yielding varieties of paddy, including six hybrid ones, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) leads the paddy seed production, commanding 91% of the country's paddy production.
But the private sector dominates the vegetable seed development and marketing though the state-owned BARI released 545 high yielding variety seeds of various crops, including 120 vegetable varieties.
But quality seeds are still in demand.
According to sources, quality vegetable seeds available in the country can meet only 50% of the demand. The government's contribution is only 2% to it. The rest is imported and produced by local companies.
Lal Teer claims to produce 30% of the seeds in the country. Besides, ACI, Brac, Metal Agro, and Supreme Seed are among the seed producers and suppliers in the country's market. However, 20% of seeds of the gross demand is imported.
According to the Seed Producers Association and the Department of Agricultural Extension, 4,500-5,000 tonnes of vegetable seeds are needed in the country every year. A large portion of it is now of hybrid varieties.
Lal Teer supplies about 1,000 tonnes of seeds per year of which 85% are of hybrid varieties.
Golam Rabbani, a professor at the Bangladesh Agricultural University, told TBS, "Many companies in Bangladesh are now supplying seeds. However, Lal Teer must be called a pioneer because it is at the forefront of vegetable seed production."
Lal Teer has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute and the Bangladesh Agricultural University. According to the agreement, they produce and research on the seeds developed by these organisations.
The company produces 1,000 tonnes of vegetables and 1,500 tonnes of paddy seeds throughout the year.
Tafsir M Awal, director of Lal Teer, said, "Climate change is having the biggest impact on Agriculture. On the other hand, cultivable land is constantly shrinking. At the moment, we are conducting research and developing varieties that are adaptable to climate change."
Research and seed distribution centre of Lal Teer
Lal Teer has a 40-acre Plant and R&D Farm in Gazipur. Everything from seed packaging, quality checking, to distribution is done here. Various types of vegetables have also been planted in most research areas.
Officials said the company will allow a sample to be marketed only if 60% of the developed seed sprout at the germination centre.
The research and seed distribution centre works with several hundred varieties of vegetables, including tomato, radish, cauliflower, mustard, eggplant, green chilies, bitter gourd, etc. There is a separate laboratory for analysing the demographic characteristics of each crop.
Dr MA Rashid, general manager of Lal Teer, said, "It is this research that sets us apart from others. Our research is contributing to increasing food production by supplying new varieties of seeds to farmers."
Lal Teer is doing extensive research and development on paddy on a 50-acre plot in Bhaluka.
The company is also developing breeds of cattle and buffalo to increase the supply of meat and milk.
Further research and development in livestock are intended to reduce imports of milk, milk powder, etc., company officials said.