Development Process

The development of the Access to Seeds Index started with a feasibility study in 2012, followed by a landscape study in 2013. The foundations of the methodology were laid in two roundtable conferences in 2013 attended by farmers and the seed industry. The first Access to Seeds Index was published in February 2016. This marked the start of a new cycle of consultations and methodology review, which will result in the second Access to Seeds Index scheduled for end of 2018.

Feasibility Study

A feasibility study, for which 25 stakeholders in and around the seed industry were consulted, was conducted in early 2012. The study concluded that the Index could help to bring greater transparency to the role of the seed industry in meeting the needs of smallholder farmers and leverage best practices.

Landscaping Research

Following the feasibility study, the first outline of the Index was developed based on desk research. The desk research report, Food for Thought, was published on March 22, 2013. The results were presented to an international audience at the FAO’s headquarters in Rome on April 5, 2013. The report investigates the challenges facing smallholder farmers in developing countries and describes the possible contribution that the seed industry could make in tackling those challenges. The insights provided input for stakeholder consultations. Part of the landscaping research was a call for case studies and good practices that was sent to the world’s 20 leading seed companies.

The initiative was again presented in Rome at the 38th Session of the FAO Ministers’ Conference on June 18, 2013. In a meeting hosted by the Dutch Ambassador to the FAO, Ms Gerda Verburg, a panel made up of Clement Kofi Humado, Minister for Food and Agriculture in Ghana, John Atkin, Chief Operational Officer of Syngenta, and Clayton Campanhola for the FAO reflected on the initiative. Representing the Dutch government, Roald Lapperre, Deputy DG Agro of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, explained the motivation to launch the initiative. Ido Verhagen, Access to Seeds’ Executive Director, outlined the project.

Dialogue and Consultations

Stakeholder consultations took place from April to November 2013. Forty experts from different backgrounds were consulted on an individual basis, either in person or via teleconferencing. In the spring and summer, a series of field trips were organized to Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia to consult various stakeholders on the ground. Experts on the situation in South and Southeast Asia were consulted via video conferencing.

In September and October, two stakeholder roundtables for farmers and the industry respectively took place. Eleven representatives of farmer organizations from Latin America, Africa and Asia and 12 representatives from NGOs, research institutes and the seed industry participated in the farmers’ roundtable in Addis Ababa on September 23 and 24, 2013. A total of 14 participants from eight companies and two seed trade associations participated in the industry roundtable in Washington DC on October 23, 2013.

Methodology Development Global Index

Based on the insights gathered from the stakeholder consultations, development of the methodology for the Global Index started in November 2013. Experts from the research firm Sustainalytics supported the Access to Seeds team in this process. Two technical advisory meetings were held in February 2014. The meeting on February 6 focused on the areas of the Index that assess seed company activities in Index countries. The meeting on February 13 focused on genetic resources, intellectual property and research and development (R&D).

After a first evaluation by the Expert Review Committee on March 10, 2014, the second draft of the methodology was developed. It was made available for feedback on the Foundation’s website in November 2014. The feedback received from various companies and NGOs provided input for the second meeting of the Expert Review Committee on November 17, 2014. On December 11, 2014 the methodology for the Access to Seeds Index 2015 was presented at the FAO’s headquarters in Rome.

Methodology Development Regional Index

To develop the methodology for the Regional Index for Eastern Africa, the Nairobi-based consultancy firm Cardno Emerging Markets was selected in August 2014. For landscaping purposes, Cardno set up a network of experts in the 12 countries that are in the scope of the Index to consult stakeholders on the ground and collect relevant data on the seed industry and farmers’ needs in those countries. The preliminary report providing baseline information for each country was published in December 2014.

Across the 12 countries, 52 seed company representatives and 39 stakeholder representatives provided input for the methodology, its scope and indicators. Additionally, a total of 17 farmers’ focus groups were conducted to identify the needs, demands and constraints of smallholder farmers in the region concerning access to seeds. The Index methodology was developed in December 2014 and evaluated by the Regional ERC on February 3, 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya. On February 19, 2015 the Regional Index was discussed with various industry representatives and other stakeholders during the presentation of the methodology of the Index, this event also took place in Nairobi.

Data Collection

Research firm Sustainalytics performed the data collection for the Access to Seeds Index 2016. Data from official company sources were used to pre-populate individual company questionnaires. Companies received this questionnaire to submit data in a carefully managed process that ensured equal treatment of each company. After an initial round of data collection and a second round for clarification, the full data set used for scoring was sent back to the companies for fact checking.

Data Analysis

Data analysis was performed by Sustainalytics and overseen by the Access to Seeds’ head of research. For verification purposes, Sustainalytics’ analysts carried out an extensive quantitative and qualitative check of each indicator for each company. For specific measurement areas, technical experts were requested to review the analysis. Everyone involved in the data collection process signed a confidentiality agreement.

Publication of the 2016 Index

The 2016 Index, which included an assessment of global seed companies as well as leading seed companies in Eastern Africa, was published on February 25, 2016. The official presentation of the findings took place on June 3, 2016, at the FAO headquarters in Rome.


Following its initial evaluation of the 2016 Index, the Expert Review Committee agreed on an ‘Agenda for Review’ on June 8, 2016, which identified areas where the methodology should be refined. Companies featured in the Index were consulted on an individual basis for their feedback on the findings of the first Index and on the data collection process. To discuss the findings with farmers and farmer organizations, four regional consultation events were organized in Western, Eastern and Southern Africa and Asia. One of the outcomes of these meetings was the desire to see regional indexes developed for Western Africa and Asia, following the Eastern African example.

Methodology development and landscaping

The input gathered during the consultation process was used to review the methodology in early 2017. Although the consultations resulted in proposals to introduce new parameters, the overall objective was to reduce the number of indicators used in the first Index. Landscaping studies to determine the companies to include in the new regional indexes for Western Africa and Asia started in March 2017 and were conducted by consultants within each
region. The landscaping study for the Regional Index for Eastern Africa was updated to explore the possibility of extending the scope to include Southern Africa. To gather stakeholder input on the parameters for the Genetic Resources and Intellectual Property measurement areas, a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) with representatives from industry, public research and civil society convened on May 9, 2017. The main changes to the methodology were discussed and approved by the Access to Seeds’ Supervisory Board on June 28, 2017.

Review and public consultation

To allow a broader group of stakeholders to provide feedback on the revised methodology, this consultation document was published on September 18 for a one-month period. In the meantime, Regional Expert Review Committees (ERCs) convened to evaluate the landscaping studies and the approach for their respective regions. The outcomes of these regional meetings as well as the public consultation process were discussed by the global ERC on November 9. After this meeting and following the global ERC’s advice, the methodology was submitted to the Supervisory Board for final approval in December 2017.

Data Collection

The data collection for the 2019 Index started early 2018. Companies selected for the assessment were informed about the data collection process in the fall of 2017. Companies were asked to complete a questionnaire in a carefully managed process that ensures equal treatment of each company. To facilitate the process, a user-friendly online data collection platform was being developed.

Data Analysis

The analysis of the data both at a company and industry level is overseen by the Access to Seeds Index’s lead researchers. For verification purposes, the researchers conduct an extensive quantitative and qualitative check of each indicator for each company. Scoring is carried out according to scoring guidelines approved by the Supervisory Board. For specific areas, technical experts review the analysis. Everyone involved in the data collection process has signed a confidentiality agreement.

Publication of the 2019 Index

The 2019 Index is scheduled for publication between November 2018 and February 2019. The global index and the regional indexes for Asia and Africa will be published on different dates during this period.