Access to Seeds Index shows seed industry making slow progress in key regions, including Africa
Thailand's East-West Seed leads the way, followed by Syngenta and Bayer
AMSTERDAM, Feb. 12, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Five hundred million smallholder farmers worldwide account for 80% of global food production, yet 90% of them cannot access the latest seed varieties developed by the world's leading seed companies to cope with changing environments and help tackle hunger, reflecting slow progress by global seed producers to reach a core market, according to a new study.
While global seed companies are adapting their products to combat the impact of climate change and address nutrition needs, only one -- Thailand's East-West Seed -- has a smallholder-centric approach and customer base made up almost entirely of smallholders. Privately-held East-West Seed leads the way in reaching this market in Asia, but increasingly in Africa too. It's followed by Switzerland's Syngenta AG and Germany's Bayer AG.
The Access to Seeds Index 2019 -- Global Seed Companies, published by the Amsterdam-based Access to Seeds Foundation, evaluates 13 leading global seed companies to highlight where the industry can do more to raise smallholder farmer productivity, improve nutrition and mitigate the effects of climate change through the development and dissemination of quality seed.
The research shows that sales by the 13 global seed companies only reached around 47 million of the world's 500 million smallholder farmers in 2017, and most of the investment went to South and Southeast Asia. In these regions, global companies invest heavily in local seed business activities: 12 in breeding and 12 in production. But such activities are rare in Western and Central Africa, with only two companies investing in local breeding and one in production.
"Although the industry is making advances in developing more nutritious and climate-resilient varieties, it's clear that more needs to be done," said Ido Verhagen, executive director of the Access to Seeds Index. "Material changes won't be possible without reaching a greater percentage of smallholder farmers, who account for the lion's share of global food production."
Shaping business models around the needs of smallholder farmers can be profitable, as shown by East-West Seed, which tops the index thanks to a strong performance across all areas assessed. Its customer base comprises 98% smallholders. Syngenta and Bayer come second and third respectively.
Reaching more smallholder farmers and investing in other geographies are critical for tackling rising malnourishment - those suffering from hunger rose from 784 million in 2014 to nearly 821 million in 2017, partly due to a lack of access to nutritious food. Yet, only six of the 13 global seed companies state nutritional value as a priority; that's up from four in 2016, but progress is slow.
The importance of improved varieties of seed offering better nutritional value and supporting crop diversity was echoed in a recent EAT-Lancet Commission report. Such diversification involves supplying more crops and varieties, including legumes and local crops.
Twelve of the 13 companies emphasized yields and higher climate/weather tolerance when breeding, which alongside training and weather-based crop insurance enables them support farmers adapting to the changing environment. Eight companies now integrate sustainability strategies at corporate level, compared to three in 2016.