Two African seed companies top the 2019 Access to Seeds Index for Eastern and Southern Africa, owing to their playing a key role in raising smallholder farmer productivity, the Amsterdam-based Access to Seeds Foundation reported on Thursday.
The foundation’s newly released research stated that Kenyan company East African Seed and Zimbabwe’s Seed Co, ranked first and second respectively, and have both grown their activities since the first index was published in 2016.
The 2019 index evaluates the actions of 22 leading seed companies in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Additionally, the Access to Seeds Index 2019 is one of the first Sustainable Development Goals benchmarks published by the World Benchmarking Alliance.
The Access to Seeds Foundation said East African Seed distinguished itself through a broad portfolio, including local crops and a large network of extension staff across multiple countries. Seed Co, meanwhile, is the African seed company with the most extensive breeding, production and sales network, as well as the widest geographic reach in agronomic training.
After East African Seed and Seed Co, the top 5 is completed by Thailand’s East-West Seed, US-based Corteva Agriscience and Swiss-based Syngenta. Ugandan companies Victoria Seeds, Naseco, Equator Seeds and Fica Seeds also make it into the Top 10.
“Two African seed companies at the top of the ranking is no surprise, given their deeper understanding of the region and the challenges smallholder farmers face. But Thailand’s East-West Seed in third place is eye-catching too, because it suggests they are transferring their know-how and experience with smallholders in Asia to Africa,” said Access to Seeds Index senior research lead Sanne Helderman.
Moreover, it demonstrates that relatively small seed companies are ahead of larger multinational seed companies in integrating smallholder farmers into their business models, Helderman stated.
The 2019 index shows that companies are present throughout the region, ranging from 13 in Zambia to five and three in Lesotho and Somalia, respectively, and are investing significantly in seed value chain activities.
Eight companies report having breeding activities in South Africa, with the same number producing seed in both Kenya and Tanzania.
The index also demonstrates that training of smallholders is lagging far behind company sales activities, with none of the companies in Angola (eight), Namibia (seven), Madagascar (seven) and South Sudan (six) accompanying their sales with extension services.
The index further noted that maize dominates breeding programmes, as twice as many companies have active breeding programmes for maize as for other crops, such as dry beans, soybean and tomato.
“The foundation suggested that this raises concerns around the ability of smallholder farmers to access a broad range of modern varieties of other important food crops and, in turn, contribute to achieving sustainable food systems and healthy and diverse diets.
Additionally, while three-quarters of the companies have active breeding programmes, for the majority of crops, even the youngest variety on offer is over three years old, raising the question as to whether the industry’s response to rapidly changing climatic conditions is sufficient.
The number of undernourished people in the world reached an estimated 821-million in 2017. The foundation cited research from the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation, which states that the number of undernourished people has been on the rise in Southern Africa in recent years, and despite reaching its lowest levels in 2010, is also increasing once more in Eastern Africa.
Climate variability and extremes have been identified as a major reason for the increase.
The Access to Seeds Index stressed that the industry has a vital role to play in assisting farmers in adapting to climatic challenges while simultaneously raising production levels.
Helderman added that while the index proved that African seed companies have and are successfully serving smallholder farmers, the industry’s reach is far too low, as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa reports that just 23% of the smallholders in its member countries have access to improved varieties of major field crops, resulting in low productivity and food security challenges.