Companies employ a range of methods to attract smallholder customers, including offering diverse portfolios, supplying remote areas and targeting specific groups such as women smallholder farmers. Many companies also collaborate with governments on measures to improve distribution and tackle counterfeit seed.
This measurement area evaluates whether companies have marketing strategies in place to contribute to smallholder farmer productivity.
Many seed companies report a high level of engagement with government authorities in the production and delivery of seed. Interactions exist between public and private organizations whereby governments act as a customer, regulator and even a recipient of training.
Multiple companies based in South Africa, Uganda, Malawi and Kenya have government authorities as customers, often for schemes subsidizing quality seed for low-income farmers. Uganda-based Victoria Seeds reports that around 40% of its seed is purchased by authorities for dissemination throughout the country. Equator Seeds also collaborates with Ugandan government programs to supply seed to smallholder farmers. Demeter Seed, from Malawi, participates in the government-run Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP), which consists of coupons that farmers can exchange for seed and fertilizers. Seed Co and East African Seed work with national or local governments to distribute their seed.
Several companies aim to be less reliant on these government entities. South Africa’s Capstone Seeds states that in order to guarantee operational sustainability it prefers to be less dependent on government and NGO-supported schemes, as they do not ensure an ongoing uptake of seed.
Governments have a responsibility to develop policies and regulations that govern issues such as variety release, quality control and phytosanitary measures. Multiple international bodies are involved in regional harmonization of seed regulations, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). East African Seed, from Kenya, and Demeter Seed, from Malawi, report abiding by COMESA regulations, with the aim of linking markets and achieving economies of scale to provide seed and varieties across the region. Capstone Seeds also indicates following regional rules.
In a notable example of seed company and government interaction, Seed Co is involved in training government extension workers in Zimbabwe. Six thousand workers have reportedly received training on best farming and business practices, thereby improving private and public sector synergy around smallholder farmers and increasing the hybrid maize adoption rate.
Approximately half of the index companies demonstrate a high level of commitment to supplying seed to smallholder farmers. In all cases, marketing statements include a general commitment to servicing smallholder farmers or explain how the company reaches this customer group. Companies were found to include activities targeting specifically women farmers, offer legumes which are of local importance, and implement affordability schemes.
In particular, regional companies supply crops that are of less global importance but play an important role in regional food security. For instance, cowpea varieties are sold by 12 regional companies in 13 index countries, and millet varieties are distributed by eight regional companies in 12 countries. Furthermore, six regional seed companies have pigeon pea, 12 have dry beans and 10 have groundnut in their portfolio. Global companies pay much less attention to these crops. For example, only Corteva Agriscience sells dry beans in the region, and none of the global companies with field crop portfolios sell pigeon pea and groundnut.
Several companies organize marketing programs and events aimed at women smallholder farmers. Corteva Agriscience, under its Zambia Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Program (ZAMSAP), relies on women lead farmers to tackle traditional obstacles, such as access to markets, helping women smallholders to reach their potential. East African Seed, from Kenya, regularly organizes meetings with women smallholder groups. The demonstration gardens of Equator Seeds, based in Uganda, are mostly managed by and for women smallholders, although the company noted that women farmers face additional challenges. Most of Seed Co’s business units also target women farmers. In Zambia, 25% of the company’s field day events are aimed explicitly at women, and in Kenya, women are specifically targeted through social media advertisements.
Beyond organizing marketing events, seed companies are active in ensuring their seed is affordable to all farmers, either through group discounts or insurance schemes. For example, ACRE Africa, the brand name of the for-profit Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise, evolved from a Syngenta Foundation project. It facilitates the links between local insurers, smallholder farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural insurance value chain, such as Kenya Seed Company and Seed Co, in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Other companies, including Equator Seeds, offer discounts on bulk purchases by farmer groups. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation supplies credit to smallholder farmers, as does East African Seed when backed by a third party, but the company reports that the lack of formal business status by individual smallholders complicates the provision of this service.
Another way that companies compete is through the development of attractive and relevant packages. All but two companies report offering small packaging, for instance, ranging from a few seeds by East-West Seed, to 5g by several companies. In addition, almost a third of companies (32%) seek to maximize the use of packaging as a way to disseminate information to their customers. For its maize hybrid varieties, Seed Co uses six different animals, representing different maturity groups, so that customers can easily recognize whether the variety is early or late maturing. Taking a more high-tech approach, Pop Vriend Seeds prints QR codes on its seed packages. Although these require smartphones, they allow farmers to access the company’s website where they can access planting instructions.
Counterfeit seed affects the business viability of both farmers and seed companies. An estimated 30% of the seed on the Ugandan market alone is fake, according to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards. In response, index companies have developed multiple strategies to limit the circulation of counterfeit seed, mostly through improved seed packages.
About 60% of companies have implemented measures to address counterfeit seed, particularly in Uganda and Kenya. East African Seed, FICA Seeds, Equator Seeds and Kenya Highland Seed use an e-tag system, Kakasa, set up to help farmers purchase genuine agro-inputs.
This system, which is free of charge to farmers, relies on a unique scratch code that the customer can access after purchasing the product. After the code is submitted via SMS, the customer receives a message confirming the package as genuine.
In addition, companies including Equator Seeds, Kenya Seed Company and Technisem collaborate with authorities to fight counterfeits. Seed Co reports working with seed trade associations to monitor counterfeit issues at a broader level. Other companies use more traditional methods, such as tamper-proof packaging (NASECO) and shiny, hard-to-fake stickers (East-West Seed and Seed Co).
Close to 80% of companies strive to reach remote areas, recognizing the importance of relying on diverse distribution channels to achieve this. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation works in collaboration with farmer unions and cooperatives to distribute seed at the local or kebele level. While most companies rely on a network of agro-dealers to supply seed in rural areas, several companies, like Seed Co, also rely on ‘ambassadors’ or lead farmers who are in charge of promoting and selling seed. Trained by Seed Co, these ambassadors are well known in their farming community and demonstrate new plant varieties to their peers. Capstone Seeds, East African Seed and Equator Seeds leverage NGO networks to deliver seed to smallholders who would be hard to reach through typical distribution channels.
Some companies employ both their own means and public services to supply seed. Kenya Highland Seed uses its own vans, Wells Fargo for courier services and local buses or motorbikes to deliver seed to the remotest areas. Pop Vriend Seeds also relies on courier services to reach agro-dealers and farmers in these areas and Victoria Seeds uses delivery tuk-tuks. Seed Co’s ‘bike field officers’ deliver seed to the very end of the supply chain on bicycles.
Seed Co’s marketing and sales approach comprises multiple elements, which are applied in most countries where it is active. In Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the company employs ‘bike field officers’ to deliver seed by bicycle to the remotest farmers.
In Zimbabwe, it has trained around 6,000 government extension workers on best farming and business practices for smallholder farmers, helping to achieve a higher hybrid maize adoption rate. Finally, its hybrid maize contains six different maturity groups. These maturity levels are symbolized by animal icons on different varieties, making it easier for farmers to recognize the differing offerings, regardless of their language and literacy level.
Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation collaborates with farmer unions and cooperatives to distribute seed to the remotest areas of the country. It establishes distribution channels and engages with cooperatives and individual smallholders in seed multiplication schemes in each kebele (the most localised administrative division), and coordinates with farmer unions to arrange credit and loans at the regional/federal level.