The majority of companies provide extension services and training, covering 15 index countries albeit at low frequency. The use of technology, particularly mobile apps, has increased since the 2016 Index. The development needs of women and next-generation farmers are addressed more frequently when these groups are seed producers than customers.
This measurement area evaluates the extension services, ICT programs, output market schemes and activities for women and next-generation smallholder farmers offered by index companies that build the capacity of these farmers to adopt improved varieties and sustainable agricultural practices. Companies can offer these services and activities themselves or through partnerships.
Extension services are invaluable in helping smallholder farmers to realize the potential of improved seed to increase their productivity and income and ensure they farm in an environmentally sustainable way. Accordingly, 86% of index companies report providing these services in the region, albeit with a notable geographic imbalance.
Corteva Agriscience, for the holistic nature of its training programs, and Seed Co, for the geographic scope of its activities, emerge as leaders in extension services. Since 2013, Corteva Agriscience has worked in partnership with USAID on the Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Program (AMSAP) in Ethiopia, with a focus on improving smallholder productivity through a transition to adapted hybrid varieties, enhanced access to new technologies, on-farm demonstrations and in-depth agronomic training. The company reports yield increases of up to 300% for 250,000 smallholders across 53 districts in Ethiopia. It has also rolled out a similar program in Zambia, demonstrating the scalability of its work. Seed Co has a vast regional presence and invests in training smallholders in 12 of the 17 (71%) countries where it is present. The company does so both individually and in partnership with development agencies. Notably, East African Seed has developed training models tailored to the specific needs of individual farmers, NASECO conducts training in all three countries where it is present, and Demeter Seed, through parent company Meridian, operates a Farm Services Unit in Malawi through which 60 extension officers (‘agronauts’) demonstrate the potential of fertilizers, adapted seed and good agricultural practices to increase profitability.
Darusalam Seed Company, which holds seasonal agronomic training for smallholder farmers in Somalia, and Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation, which conducts training in four Ethiopian regions with the aim of creating additional seed demand, only offer these services in the one index country where they are present and headquartered. Companies with a broader regional presence often concentrate their resources in their home markets. A notable exception is South Africa, where only three companies (30% of those present) offer extension services for smallholders. Of these three, Klein Karoo Africa has established an accredited training facility, the Klein Karoo Academy, for the express purpose of closing the skill gap between small-scale and commercial farmers. The predominance of such large-scale commercial farmers in the South African market is a potential reason for the relative lack of extension aimed at smallholders. The regional imbalance is further reflected in the fact that none of the companies in Angola (eight), Namibia (eight), Madagascar (seven) and South Sudan (seven) report offering training programs for smallholder farmers, an area of concern given the immature nature of the seed sector in these countries.
The use of information and communications technology (ICT) in agriculture is on the rise. The 2016 Index saw seven companies incorporating ICT for the benefit of smallholders in the region. Fast forward to 2019, and not only has this number risen to 12, ten of which are regionally based companies, but those companies using technology demonstrate more innovative and collaborative approaches. As issues around scalability and suitability diminish, mobile applications and platforms are catching up with SMS services as an effective means of reaching smallholder farmers.
Syngenta, through the affiliated Syngenta Foundation, was the only company in 2016 using mobile technology beyond SMS/coding as part of its Farmforce initiative. The platform was independently rolled out in 2017, is available in Amharic, Malagasy and Swahili and tracks all farm activity, increasing traceability and compliance with safety standards for buyers/exporters and improving access to formal output markets for smallholder users. Since then, four other companies have either developed their own or collaborated with ICT providers to develop mobile apps. Seed Co recently launched a comprehensive app in Zimbabwe that provides users with a wide range of data relating, among others, to weather, yields, pests and diseases, as well as a Grower’s Guide containing detailed agronomic advice. Another app for Zambia has a narrower focus on maize farming.
East-West Seed’s CropWiki app is available in all 12 index countries where the company is present and provides a variety of crop information, including days to maturity, color, size and weight. Victoria Seeds collaborates with Akorion to list its seed varieties and crop-protection products on the latter’s EzyAgric app as well as providing extension information on agronomic practices and pest control, particularly fall armyworm, a major regional pest. Finally, Zamseed collaborates with Lima Links, a market-information system in Zambia using a mobile point-of-sale app, to facilitate greater market access for smallholder users nationwide and allow the company to access a wider audience and share information through a digital farmer database.
East African Seed uses the SENRI app, developed by Africa Incubator Ltd, to track and manage participation in demonstrations and field training. The company also provides its variety information to Mbegu Choice, a web platform hosted by the Seed Trade Association of Kenya. Kenya Highland Seed and Kenya Seed Company continue to provide smallholders with pricing, agronomic and technical information via SMS, as was the case in 2016. NASECO, Demeter Seed and FICA Seeds also use technology to reach smallholders, although no further details were supplied. An innovative ICT project, albeit with a focus on seed production, was the pilot between Equator Seeds and the non-profit TechnoServe on 270 Ugandan smallholder outgrower farms. Using drones and sensors to measure farm area and estimate yields and assess crop health, the project was initiated to serve as an early warning system to tackle pests and diseases. Despite being discontinued due to high costs, this approach highlights how technology and innovation have the potential to benefit smallholder farmers by increasing their profitability and sustainability.
Issues surrounding access to land, credit and extension services for women smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are long-standing. Concerns around the rate at which young people are leaving farming as a profession are more recent but no less significant. Although companies demonstrate encouraging initiatives targeting these groups, most have a limited scope and fall short of addressing the magnitude of the challenges. Six index companies (27%) lead the way, with programs and initiatives aimed at both groups. A further six address the needs of next-generation farmers and two target women smallholder farmers specifically, making up 14 companies in total (64%). Other companies include these groups in general capacity building programs without specifically targeting them.
Top performers either have tailored programs or include a significant proportion of women and next-generation farmers in their extension activities. For example, regional companies Kenya Highland Seed, NASECO and Seed Co target both groups in their respective capacity building commitments and programs. Corteva Agriscience’s Zambia Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Program (ZAMSAP), in which 60% of the participants are resource-limited women and youth, is a leading example that involves both key target groups. The company further addresses youth engagement through the planting of 274 demonstration plots in 11 local schools. East African Seed allocates resources for nurseries and plot demonstrations at the primary school level, under the slogan ‘Quality seeds for the next generation’. The company reports that 60% of the 1 million smallholders it had trained by 2017 were women, again promoting inclusivity of both groups.
Somalian Darusalam Seed Company has established a vocational agricultural high school in Somalia, which has thus far produced nearly 100 graduates who have gone on to become university lecturers or work with (inter)national aid organizations. While the initiative does not directly influence the trend of youth departure from agriculture at the farm level, it does help to strengthen the level of professionalism and leadership within the agricultural sector in the country. As was the case in the 2016 Index, Victoria Seeds has a leading focus on the development and empowerment of women smallholder farmers, lobbying and working through partnerships to address women’s limited control of productive household resources and stating that women smallholders make up 70% of the participants in its extension programs.
In some cases, companies funnel capacity building resources for next-generation or women farmers to seed producers in their own supply chains, rather than providing extension to these groups as a customer service. Equator Seeds describes itself as a youth-driven company and, in collaboration with USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, hired six university graduates as agronomists to train 65 community-based facilitators. These facilitators in turn trained 6,500 young seed producers on land preparation, crop management and harvesting, with a goal of reaching a further 8,500 producers in the project’s second phase. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation states that it involves women in seed production but did not provide evidence of training its women smallholder customers.
Overall, few of the initiatives reported are more than projects, and more companies report initiatives for youth than for women farmers. The private sector, including leading seed companies, has a crucial role to play in tackling issues facing these groups, if food insecurity is to be alleviated. Given the importance of women and next-generation farmers, all companies should develop strategies to target them, making these groups a key part of capacity building commitments and activities in the coming years.
Traditionally, smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have faced issues around access to markets, commonly related to infrastructure or contracts, or find markets saturated, resulting in reduced prices and consequently lower profits. Private sector seed companies, by initiating programs, partnerships or collaborations with actors downstream in the food value chain, can enhance both their own and farmer profitability. Eleven index companies (50%) report doing so across the region.
Syngenta is one of eight agri-businesses leading the Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA). The program takes a holistic value chain approach, enhancing smallholder capability through four strategic pathways encompassing access to predictable markets, affordable finance, quality inputs and effective postharvest handling and storage. Over 150,000 Kenyan, Rwandan, Tanzanian and Zambian farmers have benefited since the FtMA was formed in 2015. Seed Co reports working with the alliance for the provision of inputs in Tanzania and the Great Lakes region.
Elsewhere, East African Seed demonstrates regional leadership with linkages across two countries; in Kenya with East African Breweries for sorghum, and in Uganda with the Palladium Group for sunflower and groundnut. Pop Vriend Seeds is the only company that reports having partnerships with the European market, while Victoria Seeds and NASECO (both in Uganda) and Zamseed (Zambia) offer output market programs in their home markets. Demeter Seed, FICA Seeds and Klein Karoo Africa do not provide further details of their initiatives.
While half of the index companies have output market programs, only four (18%) help smallholders to tackle postharvest losses. FAO estimates that postharvest losses specifically account for 8% of all food produced in sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside Syngenta and Seed Co’s contributions through the FtMA, Corteva Agriscience, through its Ethiopian AMSAP program, built new seed and grain warehouse facilities in local communities to enhance storage options, thereby reducing losses by a reported 30%. Kenya Highland Seed is the only dedicated vegetable seed company that reports advising smallholders on how to address this issue.
Corteva Agriscience’s training programs in Ethiopia (AMSAP) and Zambia (ZAMSAP) are the most holistic identified in the index countries. Integrating the company’s own and collaborating partners’ expertise and inputs, the programs aim to raise the productivity and income of smallholder farmers, including women and youth, who are both noted as key target groups.
The company has a leading commitment to women smallholder empowerment and supports this by ensuring that women farmers make up 70% of the participants in its extension programs. Furthermore, the memorandum of understanding the company signed with the Government of Uganda mandates a minimum 50% inclusion rate of women smallholder farmers in all associated training.
The company offers tailored training programs based on individual smallholder needs, demonstrating flexibility and adaptability through its extension services. It also employs nearly 100 dedicated staff members for extension purposes, including 44 in Kenya and over 20 each in Tanzania and Uganda, indicating corporate dedication to the development of smallholders with respect to profitability and sustainability