A new study focused on the performance of Africa’s seed companies has revived recurring conversations on smallholder farmers and their struggle to access quality seeds.
Nigeria- based Value Seeds Company topped the first Access to Seeds Index Western and Central Africa released by the Amsterdam-based Access to Seeds Foundation.
Technisem, France ranked second while East-West Seed from Thailand came third.
The study launched on April 17, 2019, ranked seed companies leading the font in delivering quality seeds to smallholder farmers.
The study was conducted by exploring the landscape and identifying leading seed companies in the four regions in the scope of the Access to Seeds Index: Latin America, Western and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa and South and Southeast Asia after which seed sector experts selected 60 leading companies who were tracked on their performances on a set of indicators.
The index uses a weighted scorecard approach to measure and compare company performance. A total of 59 indicators were grouped in seven measurement areas. These areas range from governance and strategy, research and development, marketing and sales and capacity building.
“The Access to Seeds Index measures the performance of seed companies to improve access to quality seeds for smallholder farmers. As such, we can learn from companies that are taking the lead, we create a better understanding of what gaps exist and help create partnerships with seed companies to fill the gaps,” Ido Verhagen, Executive Director, Access to Seeds Foundation said.
“The ranking is a challenge we hope to maintain as long as it exists. It puts us on our toes as we are clouded by competitors and we know to retain the top position is a task that is attainable.” Michael Adebayor, Value Seeds Company noted
“We will continue to focus on expanding our reach across Nigeria to other parts of Africa. With our aim of becoming a household name among smallholder farmers, we will create access and markets for affordable quality seeds,” he added.
Although the study lights a glimmer of hope for industry players, smallholder farmers in Africa still grapple with access to quality seeds and new verities to improve yield.
This according to Joseph Oppong Akowuah, Senior Lecturer, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, KNUST is as a result of limited number of certified seeds companies in Africa and lack of trust between smallholder farmers and seed companies.
“We don’t have enough certified companies in Africa into seed production so most farmers are sceptical when accessing seeds because they need to have certified companies they can trust.”
“Farmers in rural communities with no direct link to seeds supply travel to the city to purchase seeds and this disincentivizes them so they resort to reusing their own grown seeds for subsequent seasons,” he further said.
Timothée Pasqualini, a Data Analyst at the Access to Seeds Foundation and a researcher involved in the study notes that, there are many companies working on improving access to seeds for smallholder farmers. However, pertinent challenges such as difficulty to reach remote villages or where basic requirements in the enabling environment are not up to standards: such as seed certification and the release of new varieties exist.
According to studies, lack of quality seeds for farmers has direct bearings on food security in Africa as research conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests the number of malnourished people keeps an upward trend since 2014.
“In many countries, there is some homework for governments to create the circumstances companies need. But also companies can do more. In Western Africa, only a few companies are involved in breeding,” says Pasqualini,
“Companies can introduce new varieties and provide services to farmers helping them to adopt new technologies, and not limit themselves to sales alone,” he added.
Oppong Akowuah stressed on the need for African governments to establish bodies to ensure a constant supply of certified seeds and create enabling the environment for companies to invest in seed production.
To redress these challenges, Pasqualini further suggests, speed of releasing new varieties to the market has to go up backed by increased training and promotion of new, higher yielding varieties as most farmers do not yet know their potential.
The first Access to Seeds Index was published in 2016 with a ranking for global and regional companies in Eastern Africa.
The 2019 Index was published in series: South and Southeast Asia (Nov. 2018), Global Seed Companies (Jan.2019), Eastern and Southern Africa (Mar. 2019) and Western and Central Africa (April 2019). All four rankings together form the 2019 Access to Seeds Index.
This second edition included Asia and Western Africa and doubled the number of companies covered.
The study funded by the government of The Netherlands and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea, and the Gambia as part of the study.