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 key
    regions, including Africa
  • Thailand's East-West Seed leads the way, followed by Syngenta and Bayer
  • Lack of crop diversity a major constraint; hybrid seed
    dominates while legumes largely ignored


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


The Access to
Seeds Index 2019 -- Global Seed Companies
, published by the Amsterdam-based Access to Seeds Foundation, evaluates
the activities of the 13 leading global seed companies to shine a light on
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 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 of
them in breeding and 12 in production. In contrast, 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 -- 80% -- of
global food production."


Shaping business models around the needs of smallholder
farmers can be profitable, as shown by East-West Seed, a Thailand-based company
that 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 almost
entirely of smallholders (98%). Switzerland's Syngenta and Germany's Bayer are virtually
tied in second and third place.


Reaching more smallholder farmers and directing
investment to other geographies are critical to tackle rising malnourishment
The number of people suffering from hunger rose from 784 million in 2014 to
nearly 821 million in 2017, in part because of a lack of access to nutritious
food. However, only six of the 13 global seed
companies state that nutritional value is a priority for their breeding
programs. Although this is higher than the four companies identified in 2016, when
the first Access to Seeds Index was published, progress
is slow.


The importance of developing improved
varieties of seed, offering better nutritional value and supporting crop diversity
is echoed in a recent r
eport by the EAT--Lancet
Commission.[2] The
global seed industry can do more to address this need for diversification by supplying
a larger number of crops and varieties, including legumes and local crops,
which are currently neglected.


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


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


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


"The private sector is essential for achieving food
and nutrition security, one of the major challenges outlined by the SDGs.
With the world's population
rising -- and hunger with it -- amid growing concerns around the environmental
impact of crop production, the role of the global seed industry remains crucial
if Zero Hunger (SDG 2) is to be achieved by 2030
," said

[1] United Nations:
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018

[2] Food in the Anthropocene: the
EAT--Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems

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