The 2019 Access to Seeds Index for Global Seed Companies is made up of 13 leading global companies in field crop and vegetable seeds as well as regional leaders with a global presence. The insights below are based on publicly available information and information disclosed by the companies on engagement.
Global seed companies prioritize research and development, as evidenced by ongoing investments in breeding programs and new technologies. The development of climate change-ready varieties is part of the breeding programs of virtually all companies and has increased in priority in comparison to 2016. This includes varieties that are heat, flood or drought tolerant but can also endure increased threats from pests and diseases caused by changing weather patterns.
Over the past years, multiple companies have introduced climate-resilient varieties that resulted from their own breeding programs. Bayer’s Arize B-TE1 rice hybrid, which was developed for the Vietnamese market, has a higher tolerance to salinity, drought and flooding. Rijk Zwaan reports on its contribution to enhance climate-smart agriculture through its breeding programs. Through Afrisem, it introduced three African eggplant hybrid varieties in early 2017 to address evolving local biotic stresses in the region.
The industry also addresses climate change through collaborative breeding efforts, predominantly on maize. Corteva Agriscience contributes to the Heat Stress Tolerant Maize for Asia project within the USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, which targets resource-poor smallholders in South and Southeast Asia. Monsanto has a long-standing collaboration with the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project, which has enabled local seed companies to release over 90 commercial hybrid varieties in five countries in Africa since 2013. With help from the Syngenta Foundation, Syngenta developed and launched a new hybrid in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) for its Drought Tolerant Maize project in India. The foundation also worked with the International Potato Center (CIP) in Kenya to launch heat-tolerant potato varieties.
The vast majority of companies provide smallholder farmers with tailored agronomic training, marketing services and insurance schemes to adapt to changing climatic conditions. These activities frequently involve varieties bred for specific climatic conditions. In Thailand, East-West Seed has launched the ‘Grow with the Drought’ campaign, a crop substitution program encouraging farmers to shift from field crops to vegetables that require less water to grow.
In collaboration with the Swedish NGO Vi Agroforestry, Enza Zaden is helping vegetable farmers in Tanzania to adapt more efficiently to climate change by planting larger tree species that offset carbon and counteract deforestation in farming systems. In field crops, Corteva Agriscience, through its maize breeding program, and Bayer, through its rice breeding program, offer smallholders varieties and training adapted to the changing climatic conditions in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia respectively.
Climate change is accompanied by an increasing number of extreme weather events that can cause serious crop loss. Some seed companies offered insurance schemes to smallholder farmers. For instance, smallholder farmers can contact Monsanto via SMS and report the loss of a maize crop caused by unfavorable weather conditions. This scheme assured farmers indemnity to the extent of the cost of seeds. In 2016 and 2017, Bayer offered insurance in five districts in eastern India, in conjunction with the Indian insurance firm ICICI Lombard, for its Arize hybrids. The insurance scheme protected farmers against delayed or deficient rainfall by reimbursing the extra cost of hybrid seed. In collaboration with ICICI Prudential, Advanta aims to increase climate resilience among smallholder farmers by providing assurance without charging a premium to protect smallholder farmers against viral diseases affecting an okra hybrid variety.
Global seed companies with field crops in their portfolio report company targets to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by streamlining their operations. The companies also state that they aim to reduce their clients’ carbon footprint through direct and indirect investments.
Advanta’s parent company UPL has committed to reducing GHG emissions by 30% by 2020. UPL has made an agreement with Shalivahana Green Energy Ltd whereby the latter uses the company’s discarded material and remnant seed for biomass fuel. Similarly, Bayer, KWS, Limagrain and Monsanto report ongoing efforts to reduce operational GHG emissions.
These companies are also investing in mitigating the impacts of crop production and reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint through their collaboration with farmers. To that end, Bayer is introducing new breeding techniques and solutions for ‘precision farming’.
Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan includes a commitment to ‘Make crops more efficient’. The company is conducting studies on input efficiency across its global network of 1,400 reference farms. In 2017, these farms showed an increase of around 11% in output per hectare, compared to a 2014 baseline. The farms’ GHG emissions have reportedly decreased by 14% per unit produced since 2014. Partnerships with Field to Market and the Cool Farm Alliance have also enabled Syngenta to track emissions and report on the environmental footprint of the use of its seed.
Monsanto is working toward carbon neutral crop production using a combination of approaches. These include supporting the development of crops that have the ability to absorb more carbon per unit of land and improving efficient use of fertilizer and other inputs. In 2016, Monsanto set up the Carbon-Neutral Collaborative to help create a framework for measuring GHG emissions related to agricultural practices and to monitor progress to reduce carbon intensity.