Most companies have commitments to improve access to seeds for smallholder farmers, although only a minority align these with the Sustainable Development Goals. All companies are members of national seed trade associations, but less than half report dedicated activities.
This measurement area evaluates whether companies have strategies in place to contribute to smallholder farmer productivity and the SDGs.
The best performing companies in Governance & Strategy have all implemented corporate strategies on access to seeds for smallholder farmers, with policy statements backed up by specified targets within set timeframes and progress tracked against these targets. While definitions of smallholder farmers differ across companies, several companies have set targets to reach this specific client group in the region. Among regional companies, Seed Co has set a target of reaching 40 million smallholders by 2025, and reports reaching 2 million Zimbabwean smallholders through certified maize seed sales, and 5 million across Eastern and Central Africa through its vegetable program. Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience have global targets to reach 20 million and 3 million smallholders respectively by 2020 (reaching 13.9 million and 1.7 million by 2017), with Eastern and Southern Africa a key region for both. All three companies have publicly available and robust commitments to smallholder clients. Kenya Highland Seed has a commitment to produce quality seed for smallholders alongside a target of reaching 60,000 farmers, albeit with no deadline by which to reach this number. Equator Seeds, Victoria Seeds and NASECO have set targets of reaching 50,000, 6 million and 750,000 smallholders respectively. The other companies lack smallholder commitments, targets and tracking mechanisms or a combination of these.
While companies can improve generally upon the formalization of access to seeds commitments, 83% report that accountability for smallholder farmer and sustainability strategies lies either with the CEO, board or senior management, with regular (annual, bi-annual or quarterly) reporting. Two regional companies lead the way, with monthly reporting on progress toward access to seeds targets. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation demonstrates detailed tracking and reporting across all key seed activities, and East African Seed reports holding monthly meetings, involving members of field teams from all index countries where it is active, to discuss progress on smallholder-related field activities. A key tool used is the SENRI mobile app, which allows the collation of all farm-visit data, including the purpose of the visit, number of smallholders in attendance and emergent issues to tackle in the future. Six companies, all regional, report holding quarterly meetings, and a further four hold bi-annual meetings, during which access to seeds targets are reported on. Four of the six companies based outside the region report on their smallholder-related activities as part of annual reviews.
Despite this regular high-level accountability for smallholder strategies, regional companies rarely consider aligning their access to seeds commitments with the SDGs. Victoria Seeds is one of the few regional companies to integrate such a strategy, with a corporate focus on women smallholder empowerment, through which it specifically addresses SDG 5 (Gender Equality). In contrast, global players Corteva Agriscience, East-West Seed, Monsanto and Syngenta all tie company activities and smallholder strategies to relevant SDGs (most frequently SDG 2, Zero Hunger) and address these within their corporate reporting.
Regional companies, headquartered in index countries, demonstrate close and long-standing ties with local seed sectors, particularly in their home markets. Some 83% of these companies have dedicated activities to develop the sector, whereas 44% collaborate with actors in the local seed sector (often through farmer organizations or cooperatives). In contrast, globally active companies contribute through broad policy agendas and stand-alone initiatives.
Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation, one of two state-owned companies in the index, has dedicated activities to develop the local seed sector, including participation in national seed committees and associations, and marketing collaborations with the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Program, which aims to support the development of pluralistic and market-orientated seed sectors, and Sasakawa Africa Association. The company also demonstrates a multi-tiered approach toward the local seed sector, establishing distribution channels and engaging with farmer cooperatives and individual smallholders in seed multiplication schemes at the lowest local administrative (kebele) level, and coordinating with cooperative unions to arrange credit at the regional/federal level.
Similarly, multiple seed companies collaborate with local players in seed production. For example, Darusalam Seed Company works closely with local actors in seed production under the supervision of company agronomists. Uganda-based Equator Seeds and Victoria Seeds have contractual arrangements with farmer cooperatives for seed production. Seed Co, one of the few companies to demonstrate local seed sector collaborations outside of its home country, has linkages with the Farmers Union of Malawi and National Association of Smallholders of Malawi. Kenya Highland Seed and NASECO also report seed sector collaborations at the local level.
In contrast, global companies offer either broader or less comprehensive initiatives to advance the seed sector regionally and locally. Syngenta’s affiliated Syngenta Foundation uses two models to influence policy at the regional level. ‘Connect’ assesses the performance of new varieties and aims to de-risk entry into markets for those that are suitable, whereas ‘Build’ aims to build the market for smallholders through access to finance and local seed production. In terms of country-specific seed sector advancement, Corteva Agriscience’s Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Program (AMSAP) has a core objective to increase smallholder productivity in Ethiopia through greater access to improved hybrid varieties, reducing postharvest losses and expanding market access. East-West Seed partners in the Seeds of Expertise for the Vegetable Sector of Africa (SEVIA) program, which aims to develop adapted varieties for Tanzania and beyond to tackle food security issues.
All 22 index companies report being members of either national or regional seed trade associations. Nine companies (41%) report on their activities or contributions through these associations. Influencing policy harmonization, national regulations and registration/certification of seed varieties is seen as crucial for opening up new markets and consolidating activities in existing markets.
South Africa (with four companies headquartered there), Uganda (four) and Kenya (three) emerge as the most popular countries for seed trade association membership, alongside Tanzania which has no company headquarters but does serve as a regional base for the Dutch company Pop Vriend Seeds and counts global players East-West Seed and Syngenta as association members. Reported activities within these countries are numerous.
Capstone Seeds is a signatory of a seed harmonization scheme in South Africa, FICA Seeds spearheaded a country-wide application of a seed trader code of conduct in Uganda, Syngenta facilitated seed certification training in Tanzania and Victoria Seeds has advocated the fast tracking of a national seed policy in Uganda. Seed Co reports playing an important role in national policy setting in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, while East African Seed, through the Africa Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), helped to formulate policies to curb the sale of counterfeit seed. Corteva Agriscience, NASECO and Pop Vriend Seeds also report making specific contributions across the region.
In contrast, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho and South Sudan lack seed trade associations (or they are in their infancy) and hence vehicles for company association and/or dedicated activities. The reasons are varied. Angola and South Sudan have experienced limited private sector activity and growth as a consequence of recent political and civil upheaval, while Lesotho’s seed market is marginal. However, given that 16 of the 22 index companies (73%) report a sales presence in at least one of these countries, opportunities exist for these companies, alone or in alliance, to apply regulatory strategies and approaches from other index countries to improve the enabling environments in these neglected locations.
The majority (77%) of index companies report having codes of business conduct in place for one or more of the following: anti-corruption, lobbying activities, social and labor standards, and biosafety. However, only global companies Corteva Agriscience, Monsanto and Syngenta make these publicly available. This contrasts starkly with access to seeds strategies, and this lack of disclosure affects company accountability of their activities, particularly seed production, and leaves stakeholders uninformed.
Of the companies that report having codes of business conduct, only six provided further supporting evidence of internal procedures. FICA Seeds has a code of ethics that covers expected behavior related to anti-corruption and lobbying, and sets out regulations and details how violations can be reported, which each employee must sign. Kenya Highland Seed has a similar code and includes a pledge to facilitate access to voluntary and confidential counseling for employees who request it.
Pop Vriend Seeds includes clauses prohibiting child labor in all its seed production contracts, and Victoria Seeds is in the process of formalizing a corporate-wide gender equality policy to complement its existing human resources manual. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation and East African Seed also have anti-corruption policies.
Five companies either did not provide evidence of or do not currently have codes of business conduct in place. These companies are encouraged to follow the example of the leading global players, which publicly disclose comprehensive codes, provide regular training to staff and monitor compliance across all internal operations and often across the entire supply chain. These codes also reference external standards such as those set by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Labour Organization. By being transparent, companies make their codes benchmarks in their own right, against which organizational performance can be measured and allowing for greater levels of stakeholder monitoring and assessment.
Alongside its commitment to reach 40 million smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025, Seed Co demonstrates the broadest contribution to improving the business-enabling environment at both the national and regional level. This includes spearheading programs for seed certification and variety release training in Zimbabwe, national policy setting in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, company representatives heading the AFSTA Special Interest Group on Field Crops and involvement in the seed harmonization project by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
One of the few regional companies to explicitly reference the SDGs, Victoria Seeds receives recognition for its corporate commitment to SDG 5 (Gender Equality). The company demonstrates a leading focus on women smallholder empowerment, through its mission to guarantee Ugandan women farmers market access and providing training to transform them from subsistence to commercial farmers.