“The 2019 Access to Seeds Index, a measure of the world’s leading seed companies that aid smallholder farmers, found that “improved” seed from major companies reaches only 10 percent of the world’s small farms. And seed industry investments in local seed breeding and production are limited to a few countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania.
Access to Seeds Foundation Executive Director Ido Verhagen is optimistic that all farmers could be reached with appropriate seeds in the coming decades — a massive leap considering only one in 10 are today. For example, many countries in South and Southeast Asia have robust private certified seed production and distribution programs, says Verhagen. The question is whether research agencies or companies with breeding programs will produce high-quality, locally adapted seed farmers are willing to buy, he says.
Farmers are notoriously finicky. It’s not uncommon for them to shun new and improved varieties if they don’t have other desirable qualities — for example, tall stalks for feeding cattle or easy threshing. But farming community interest in climate-adapted seeds has risen sharply in recent years. When the Access to Seeds Index was first published in 2013, farmers said access to modern plant varieties was not a high priority. By 2016, that was changing, says Verhagen, adding, “Groups were more apt to say they needed greater access to modern plant breeding — all because of climate change.”