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.
Field crop companies concentrate on universal crops like maize, rice, sorghum, soybean and sunflower, which are amenable to hybridization or, in the case of soybean, GM. Millets seem to be attracting increasing attention. However, the companies show very limited activities in other important field crops such as wheat, legumes and potato. This leaves an important gap in index regions from a food and nutrition security perspective.
Maize is generally regarded as the main business driver of the seed industry. Six of the seven field crop companies have maize in their portfolio. Corteva Agriscience reports that maize is its most important crop in all index regions. For Advanta and Limagrain, maize is a main crop in two regions. In contrast, wheat is part of the portfolio of six companies, but no company indicates it is a main crop in index regions.
Furthermore, sorghum, millets and rice are in the portfolios of five companies. Advanta reports that sorghum is among its top three crops in three regions. Corteva Agriscience reports that pearl millet is one of its top three crops in South and Southeast Asia. Bayer states that rice is one of its top three crops in both South and Southeast Asia and Western and Central Africa. Also for Advanta, rice is one of its main crops in South and Southeast Asia.
Soybean is in the portfolio of seven companies and is a main crop for Corteva Agriscience, Limagrain and Bayer. Sunflower is found in the portfolio of five companies and is a main crop for Advanta and Corteva Agriscience.
Legumes are largely missing. Syngenta has several legumes in its portfolio, but no further information was provided as to whether the company sells these crops in index countries. Corteva Agriscience has dry beans in its portfolio in Africa.
Information is also lacking on potato and sesame, two other important field crops for smallholder farmers in index countries. While KWS has sold its potato program in 2016, it is notable that vegetable seed company Bejo recently started marketing a potato variety grown from true seed rather than seed potatoes in Africa. Despite its importance, sesame does not appear to be a crop of interest for global seed companies, although Syngenta lists it in its portfolio without any further details.
The 2019 Index covers the 18 vegetables that are grown most frequently in index regions, according to FAOSTAT. All these crops are found in multiple company portfolios in index countries.
Tomato and onion are most frequently mentioned as being a top three crop in one of the index regions. For Rijk Zwaan, lettuce is also a significant crop in all four regions. For East-West Seed, cucumber is one of its main crops in three regions.
Overall, companies focus primarily on selling seed of hybrid varieties, which produce superior yields during the first harvest. Some farmers prefer open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) as seed can be saved and reused. Only four companies strategically develop OPVs for vegetables alongside hybrids: East-West Seed, Limagrain, Sakata and Advanta.
Eight companies provided information on package sizes. All of them sell seed in packages tailored to the needs of smallholder farmers. For vegetable seed, package sizes range from 1gr to 1kg. For field crops, the sizes range from 100gr to 10kg.
East-West Seed provides most choice in package sizes for vegetable seed. On average, it has three to seven different package sizes for each crop. Corteva Agriscience provides most choice for field crops. It reports having three to four different package sizes available for all of its crops.
The age of varieties is an indicator of the investments seed companies make in their crop breeding programs, and whether these lead to the release of new varieties. In 72% of all reported cases, global seed companies state that the youngest variety for a crop in their portfolio is less than three years old.
Two companies report that for their total portfolio of crops in index countries, the youngest variety is less than three years old. In contrast, one company reports that for 64% of its portfolio, the youngest variety is more than five years old. Some companies provided this information under a non-disclosure agreement, and so specific names cannot be given.
The majority of the varieties sold by global seed companies result from their own breeding programs. For all companies combined, 70% of the varieties for a crop in a company’s portfolio come from the company’s own breeding programs. In 17% of cases, the company (also) sells varieties licensed from other companies, and in 12% of the cases (also) from public research institutes.
Public research institutes have many varieties available but lack the ability (or mandate) to distribute them on a continuous basis to smallholder farmers. Among the global seed companies, Advanta distributes the most seed from public research institutes, followed by East-West Seed and Limagrain.