A majority of companies have research and development activities, with a clear emphasis on maize and a growing consideration of locally important crops. However, gaps remain with respect to collaborative research and incorporating local knowledge and feedback into breeding programs.
This measurement area evaluates whether company research and development efforts, in particular breeding, benefit smallholder farmers. Through breeding, new high-yielding varieties can become available that are more resilient to changing weather conditions, resistant to attacks from pests and diseases, and have a longer shelf life and higher nutritional value.
A majority of companies (77%) have research and development activities in the region. In South Africa alone, eight companies, including Corteva Agriscience, Monsanto, Klein Karoo Africa and Capstone Seeds, have breeding locations, with an emphasis on maize breeding. The country with the highest concentration of breeding activities after South Africa is Kenya, where six companies have research locations.
Other countries where breeding occurs include Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique. Technisem is the only company with a breeding station in Madagascar, although it does not sell seed in the country. Notably, Starke Ayres, which has a breeding location in South Africa, is the only regional company with a breeding program covering a broad range of vegetable crops. Some regional companies report breeding programs in their home markets, limited to one or two crops, such as East African Seed and Hygrotech.
Index companies often collaborate with public or private research partners, such as international and national research institutes, in index countries to develop traits of regional significance. Nearly every company collaborates with national and international research partners in varying capacities, such as national agricultural research systems, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Africa Rice Center, among others. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the international research institute that companies most often report collaborating with (12 companies). Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience work with CIMMYT to address maize lethal necrosis disease, developing and delivering diagnostic tools such as early detection that can enable farmers to eliminate diseased plants and avoid total crop loss. Darusalam Seed Company works with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to test maize and sorghum varieties for pest resistance in Somalia.
As a state-owned company, Kenya Seed Company’s breeders collaborate with local institutions such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Nairobi University and Egerton University, in addition to international partners such as the World Vegetable Center. No company reports working with non-governmental organizations or farmer organizations on breeding projects.
By training plant breeders, companies can support the viability of research and development programs in the region. East African Seed and NASECO are the only companies that report training plant breeders locally. East African Seed trains breeders through short-term programs and by hosting university students at its research and development stations; NASECO offers internships for students from the Makerere University Regional Center for Crop Improvement, under a formal arrangement.
The improvement of local crops can demonstrate a commitment to agrobiodiversity and food security by stewarding crops of regional importance. Regional companies perform relatively well in developing improved varieties of local crops, including crotalaria, spider plant and Ethiopian mustard.
Six companies have breeding programs for local crops. East African Seed, East-West Seed and Kenya Seed Company have breeding programs to develop several local crops that are of regional importance, notably kailaan, amaranth, sukuma wiki and hairy nightshade.
Pop Vriend Seeds is developing improved varieties of sukuma wiki, also known as African kale, and hairy nightshade.
Legumes are mainly developed by regional companies, with the exception of soybean and dry bean, for which Corteva Agriscience has a breeding program. Zamseed has a breeding program for chickpea, cowpea and groundnut, which straddle the line between global and local crops. Kenya Seed Company also reports breeding for cowpea.
Index companies are increasingly incorporating local knowledge and feedback into their breeding programs, though such efforts are still nascent. Through various projects and programs, companies demonstrate that they are listening to consumers, traders and farmers to develop improved varieties that take local preferences into account.
East African Seed conducts customer satisfaction surveys to identify key breeding areas and holds monthly field activities that involve group discussions, the results of which are captured in the SENRI mobile app. Demeter Seed has tested and identified maize varieties with preferred flintiness and cooking time following following feedback from women smallholder farmers in Malawi.
East-West Seed also elicited feedback from women smallholder farmers through focus group discussions on the performance of onion varieties in Tanzania.
Technisem’s breeding efforts are influenced by direct engagement with farmers. The Syngenta Foundation, a non-profit organization with core funding from Syngenta, collaborates with the International Potato Center (CIP) to test new varieties of potato originating from the Kenyan government’s breeding programs. The testing protocols ensure that women’s groups check for traits specifically preferred by women, providing feedback on variety selection and breeding programs. Pop Vriend Seeds’ breeders visit production and trial fields throughout Africa to discuss product performance with technicians and farmers and incorporate local preferences into its breeding efforts.
Corteva Agriscience shows leadership for its approach to combating fall armyworm (FAW) in Africa. Since 2016, FAW has quickly spread across the continent, causing significant damage to maize. Corteva Agriscience’s approach combines classic breeding, genetic modification, entomology and insecticides to address the devastating effects FAW has had on growers.
The company has established an insectuary in Delmas, South Africa, where it studies FAW genetics in an effort to understand where introductions of FAW occurred and how fast resistance can be expected to develop to current and future control measures.
Seed Co has the highest number of regional testing locations, using varieties from three sources: its own portfolio, agricultural research institutes and other companies. Seed Co also demonstrates great scope for breeding in the region, with research and development stations in Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.