The 2019 Access to Seeds Index for Eastern and Southern Africa is made up of a mix of leading regional and global companies in field crop and vegetable seeds. The insights below are based on publicly available information and information disclosed by the companies on engagement.
More companies offer open-pollinated varieties (OPVS) than hybrid varieties for just under half of all vegetables. This is also the case for all field crops, with the exception of maize and sunflower. For most crops that are amenable to hybridization, companies commonly offer a mix of hybrids and OPVs. All regional companies that sell hybrid maize varieties also sell OPVs for maize. Six companies sell OPVs for all the crops in their portfolio.
Two companies, Demeter Seed and Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation, only sell OPVs, with the exception of hybrid maize. Some companies report that even though margins for hybrid seed are higher, they keep OPVs in their portfolio as they meet a high demand from smallholder farmers who choose OPVs in part because they lend themselves to on-farm seed saving. Corteva Agriscience exclusively offers hybrids for crops that are amenable to hybridization.
The size of seed packages is a frequently used indicator of whether the industry is geared toward the needs of smallholder farmers. The majority of companies sell seed in small packages, in some cases just 1g per package. Seed packages for field crops and legumes generally start at 1kg, and for vegetables range from 5g to 1kg.
On average, the industry offers three different package sizes for field crops and four different package sizes for vegetables. East African Seed reports selling its legume seed in small packages of 100g or 500g, where other companies’ package sizes start at 1kg. For vegetables, East African Seed, Pop Vriend Seeds and Technisem also report selling 2kg to 10kg packages, for wholesale or large-scale farmers.
Of the 22 index companies, 16 report having maize seed in their portfolio, and ten companies report that maize is the most important crop for their business. These numbers indicate the importance of maize for the regional seed industry. By comparison, sorghum is found in 16 portfolios, but it is only among the top three crops for two companies. Madagascar is the only index country with no reported sales of maize.
Among regional companies, Darusalam Seed Company considers sesame as one of its most important crops, as does Seed Co for wheat. For Capstone Seeds, millets are a major crop, with the company having sales in eight index countries. Potato is included in the portfolio of Monsanto, Seed Co and Syngenta, but no sales information is disclosed.
Corteva Agriscience is the only index company without vegetables in its portfolio. Other companies offer select vegetable varieties in portfolios dominated by field crops and legumes. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation includes green pea and hot pepper alongside eight other field crops and legumes, and Capstone Seeds offers green bean and green pea alongside nine field crops and legumes.
Six companies are specialized vegetable seed companies: East-West Seed, Hygrotech, Kenya Highland Seed, Pop Vriend Seeds, Starke Ayres and Technisem. Green bean, tomato, onion and watermelon are reported to be among the most important crops for these companies. Of the 16 companies selling both field crops and vegetables, only four consider a vegetable to be among their three most important crops. East African Seed reports watermelon and tomato alongside maize, while Victoria Seeds also lists tomato as a key crop for the company.
Legumes are common in index company portfolios but are more popular with regional companies. Seven regional companies report that one of the three main crops in their portfolio is a legume. Demeter Seed lists both dry beans and groundnut in its top three, Victoria Seeds also lists groundnut, while FICA Seeds emphasizes the importance of cowpea and dry beans.
Global companies Syngenta and Monsanto also report that various legumes are part of their portfolio but do not disclose sales information. Corteva Agriscience has soybean and dry beans in its regional portfolio, with sales across the region through subsidiary Pannar.
Given that maize is the main business driver in the region, its dominance in company breeding programs is unsurprising. Eleven companies report active maize programs, more than double that of dry beans, soybean and tomato, the next most frequently bred crops. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation and FICA Seeds only breed maize. Among regional companies, Capstone Seeds breeds maize and millets, and Seed Co breeds four other field crops alongside maize. Globally active Corteva Agriscience has five research stations in South Africa alone, where it focuses on developing improved varieties of maize, wheat, sunflower, sorghum, soybean and dry beans for the region.
A number of companies have programs heavily concentrated on field crops but with some selective breeding for vegetables. For instance, Klein Karoo Africa breeds onion alongside sunflower, maize, sorghum, soybean, wheat and dry beans. Zamseed, as well as being the only index company to breed chickpea, cowpea and groundnut, also includes okra, pumpkin and squash in its breeding programs.
Only three of the specialized vegetable companies, Starke Ayres, Pop Vriend Seeds and Technisem, have extensive breeding programs in the region, with breeding programs including six, seven and eight vegetables respectively, alongside a number of locally important crops. Hygrotech breeds green bean, carrot and sweet pepper, East-West Seed only breeds local crops in the region and Kenya Highland Seed does not have a breeding program.
The majority of varieties sold by global companies (75%) are the result of their own breeding programs, reflecting the larger resource base and capacity of these companies. Corteva Agriscience breeds six global field crops and legumes in South Africa alone, and Technisem (operational across Africa) markets varieties from its own breeding program for 50% of the crops in its portfolio. For regional companies, this is only 11%. Regional companies tend only to have breeding programs for a select number of field crops and legumes in their portfolio, most frequently maize and dry beans.
The majority of the varieties sold by regional companies are licensed from other companies (54%), with the other 35% originating from public breeding programs. Equator Seeds relies almost equally on these sources, 45% of its portfolio made up of varieties from public research institutes and 55% from other companies. Aside from some maize varieties developed in house, Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation relies entirely on public research material. Kenya Highland Seed sources all its seed from other companies.
The age of varieties is an indicator of the investments seed companies make in their crop breeding programs. Global companies report that the youngest variety of 61% of the crops in their portfolio is less than three years old. For regional seed companies, that percentage is only 29%. As new varieties are, for the most part, the result of companies’ own breeding programs, this difference can be explained by the fact that regional companies only breed a select number of crops.
Capstone Seeds’ newest maize variety was released within the last three years, but for all other crops in its portfolio the youngest varieties are at least three years or older. Similarly, Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation, which only breeds maize, has a variety less than three years old; for all other crops the youngest varieties in its portfolio are older. Specialized vegetable seed companies Technisem and Pop Vriend Seeds are clear leaders, with the newest varieties of 76% of crops in their portfolios being younger than three years.