Global seed companies are addressing climate change and nutrition needs but reach only 10% of the world’s small farmers

January 28, 2019 - 09:31
Global seed companies are addressing climate change and nutrition needs but reach only 10% of the world’s small farmers

  • Access to Seeds Index shows seed industry making slow progress in keyregions, including Africa
  • Thailand's East-West Seed leads the way, followed by Syngenta and Bayer
  • Lack of crop diversity a major constraint; hybrid seeddominates while legumes largely ignored


AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Media OutReach - 28 January 2019 - Global seedcompanies are adapting their products to combat the impact of climate change andaddress nutrition needs. But limited access to quality seed in many emergingeconomies persists, with the global seed industry reaching just 10% of theworld's smallholder farmers, according to a new study.


The Access toSeeds Index 2019 -- Global Seed Companies, published by the Amsterdam-based Access to Seeds Foundation, evaluatesthe activities of the 13 leading global seed companies to shine a light onwhere the industry can do more to raise smallholder farmer productivity,improve nutrition and mitigate the effects of climate change through thedevelopment and dissemination of quality seed.


The research shows that sales by the 13 global seedcompanies only reached around 47 million of the world's 500 million smallholderfarmers in 2017, and most investment went to a small number of countries,mostly in South and Southeast Asia. In these regions, global companies invest heavily in local seed business activities: 12 ofthem in breeding and 12 in production. In contrast, such activities are rare inWestern and Central Africa, with only two companies investing in local breedingand one in production.


"Although the industry is making advances indeveloping more nutritious and climate-resilient varieties, it's clear thatmore needs to be done," said Ido Verhagen, executive director of the Access toSeeds Index. "Material changes won't be possible without reaching a greaterpercentage of smallholder farmers, who account for the lion's share -- 80% -- ofglobal food production."


Shaping business models around the needs of smallholderfarmers can be profitable, as shown by East-West Seed, a Thailand-based companythat tops the index thanks to a strong performance across all areas assessed.It has a unique smallholder-centric approach and a customer base made up almostentirely of smallholders (98%). Switzerland's Syngenta and Germany's Bayer are virtuallytied in second and third place.


Reaching more smallholder farmers and directinginvestment to other geographies are critical to tackle rising malnourishment.[1]The number of people suffering from hunger rose from 784 million in 2014 tonearly 821 million in 2017, in part because of a lack of access to nutritiousfood. However, only six of the 13 global seedcompanies state that nutritional value is a priority for their breedingprograms. Although this is higher than the four companies identified in 2016, whenthe first Access to Seeds Index was published, progressis slow.


The importance of developing improvedvarieties of seed, offering better nutritional value and supporting crop diversityis echoed in a recent report by the EAT--LancetCommission.[2] Theglobal seed industry can do more to address this need for diversification by supplyinga larger number of crops and varieties, including legumes and local crops,which are currently neglected.


The index also reveals a sharper focus on climatechange. Of the 13 companies evaluated, 12 emphasize that increased yields andhigher tolerance to climate and weather risks are essential when breeding. Thisis reflected in increased breeding for climate-resilient field crops andvegetable varieties since 2016.


By broadening their offering, including the provisionof farmer training and other services such as weather-based crop insurance,seed companies have found new ways to help farmers adapt to changing climaticconditions. Eight companies are now integrating sustainability strategies at thecorporate level, compared to three in 2016.


The Access to Seeds Index 2019 -- Global Seed Companiesis one of the first Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) benchmarks published bythe World Benchmarking Alliance. The alliance was launched in September 2018during the UN General Assembly in New York. The Access to Seeds Index was establishedwith support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government ofthe Netherlands. The global index is complemented by regional indexes thatprovide in-depth analysis of South andSoutheast Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa, and Western and CentralAfrica.


"The private sector is essential for achieving foodand nutrition security, one of the major challenges outlined by the SDGs. With the world's populationrising -- and hunger with it -- amid growing concerns around the environmentalimpact of crop production, the role of the global seed industry remains crucialif Zero Hunger (SDG 2) is to be achieved by 2030," saidVerhagen.