Food insecurity and malnutrition could be reduced the world over if smallholder farmers had access to good seeds, but research shows that the global seed industry reaches only 10% of the world’s smallholder farmers.
In an attempt to improve the availability of the best seeds and varieties to smallholder farmers, the Access to Seeds Index measures and compares the efforts of the world’s leading seed companies to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers and highlights best practice.
Smallholders produce 80% of all food consumed in Africa and Asia, and helping these farmers increase their yields and produce more nutritious crops is key to achieving global food security and ending hunger. Climate change is making food production more challenging as farmers need to adapt to changing climate conditions and protect crops from new pests and diseases.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are poured into research each year for breeding new varieties but getting the new seeds into farmers’ hands requires partnerships with private companies supporting smallholder productivity.
The Access to Seeds Index 2019 evaluates seed companies taking the lead in supporting smallholder productivity by breeding climate-resilient varieties for smallholder farmers, improving accessibility by reaching farmers in remote villages, and ensuring affordability. A number of seed companies offer farmer training and weather-based crop insurance.
According to the latest figures the signs are good – access to good seed is increasing, but there is still limited access to quality seed in emerging economies, especially in Western and Central Africa. The report calls on the global seed industry to do more to address diversification as companies tend to focus on a select number of crops and varieties, largely neglecting legumes (other than soyabean) and local crops.
Global seed companies focus on the main field crops – rice, maize, wheat, millets, sorghum, sunflower, potato and sesame – and on vegetables, including tomatoes, cabbages, sweet peppers, onions, cucumbers, hot peppers, carrots, squashes, cauliflowers, pumpkins, aubergines, okras, lettuces, green beans and green peas, and cucurbit fruits (melons and watermelons).
Breeding for climate-resilient varieties is increasing but breeding for nutritional value is not yet a high priority. Increased yield, tolerance to abiotic stresses (climate and weather), tolerance to biotic stresses (pests and diseases), and shelf-life still take priority over nutritional value and local tastes and cultural preferences. Vegetable seed companies, however, are emphasizing the importance of vegetables in a nutritious diet and increasingly seeking to support dietary diversity by including local vegetables in their range of vegetable seeds.