Access to Seeds
Index 2019 Global Seed

Seed companies are a crucial partner in efforts to raise smallholder farmer productivity and achieve food and nutrition security. For the second time, the Access to Seeds Index shines a light on the global seed companies taking the lead in reaching smallholder farmers.


Small-scale farming dominates the agricultural landscape in South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as well as in several countries in Latin America. Helping farmers in these regions to grow more, and more nutritious, food is key to achieving food and nutrition security, one of the major challenges outlined by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A large part of the answer to the question of how to raise agricultural productivity, while also remaining within the planetary boundaries and tackling climate change, lies in plant breeding – but only when the results reach smallholder farmers. This is where the seed industry comes in.

The Access to Seeds Index 2019 highlights different aspects of the seed industry. The ranking below focuses on 13 leading global seed companies. This was preceded, in November 2018, by a ranking of the industry in South and Southeast Asia. A ranking for Eastern and Southern Africa and Western and Central Africa will follow in early March and April 2019 respectively.

The Access to Seeds Index, initiated by the Amsterdam-based Access to Seeds Foundation, is the first benchmark to be published as part of the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), launched last September during the UN General Assembly in New York. The goal of WBA benchmarks is to increase the contribution of the private sector to achieving the SDGs.


Thailand-based East-West Seed tops the 2019 Index. With a client base made up almost entirely of smallholders (98%), it demonstrates that business models shaped around small farmers can be profitable. It is followed by Syngenta and Bayer, both demonstrating progress in their commitments to support smallholder farmer productivity.

*In August 2018, Bayer completed the $66 billion takeover of Monsanto. The 2019 index reflects company activities in the 2015-2017 period, prior to the takeover.
Measurement areas
  • Governance & Strategy
  • Genetic Resources
  • Intellectual Property
  • Research & Development
  • Seed Production
  • Marketing & Sales
  • Capacity Building

The Access to Seeds Index presents an overall ranking, which is the weighted sum of the results in seven measurement areas. The rankings for each of these areas are available below.

Although the smallest of the global companies in terms of revenues, the Thailand-based East-West Seed clearly leads the 2019 Index. The company has developed a unique smallholder-centric approach in Asia, which it is now expanding to other regions.

In second and third place respectively, with virtually no difference in their overall scores, are Syngenta and Bayer. Both companies have commitments in place to support smallholder farmer productivity, and their strong scores in Capacity Building show that providing training and extension services is part of those commitments.

A group of larger multinationals follows, all displaying strong approaches to increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers. Corteva Agriscience ranks in fourth place and Advanta debuts in the index in fifth place, both thanks to consistent performance across measurement areas. The debut of Advanta itself demonstrates the increasingly important role Asian companies are playing in the seed industry.

Limagrain has made significant progress compared to the 2016 Index, making it into the top three in Research & Development. Monsanto, currently being integrated into Bayer after the 2018 takeover, once again ranks in the middle of the index.

Behind the multinationals is a group of specialized vegetable seed companies. Rijk Zwaan outranks its Dutch peers Bejo and Enza Zaden, although all three have improved their 2016 scores, indicating progress in efforts to reach smallholder farmers.

Takii, KWS and Sakata close out the ranking. Although industry leaders, it remains unclear whether and how they leverage their potential to support smallholder farmer productivity.

Learn more about this ranking

Smallholder farmers in Tanzania receive agronomic training through the Knowledge Transfer Foundation of East-West Seed. One of the practices explained is optimal plant spacing to get the most out of the company’s seeds. East-West Seed aims to reach 100,000 farmers through its Foundation’s programs that focus explicitly on pre-commercial smallholder farmers.
Photo credit: East-West Seed

Key Findings

Hunger is on the rise. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of hungry people increased from 784 million to nearly 821 million. The situation is worsening in Latin America and most regions of Africa, while the fight against malnutrition in Asia has come to a standstill.

Food and nutrition security are negatively affected by a changing climate, which is impacting agriculture. According to the UN, climate change makes improving access to climate-resilient varieties suitable for smallholder farmers more pressing than ever.

The 2019 Access to Seeds Index shows that the global seed industry is adapting their seeds to combat the impact of climate change. However, a lack of access to quality seeds in many emerging economies persists, as global companies reach just 10% of the world’s smallholder farmers.

The importance of investments in improved varieties of crops, offering better nutritional value and diversity, is echoed in a recent report by the EAT–Lancet Commission. The global seed industry can do more to address this call for diversification as companies tend to focus on a select number of crops and varieties, largely neglecting legumes and local crops.

Key Finding 1


Global seed companies reach 10% of the world’s small farms; growing company presence in Western and Central Africa

The 2016 Index showed that six countries in Western & Central Africa had no global seed companies present. This has since decreased to two countries. Furthermore, the number of global companies has increased in most index countries in the region. However, this presence is generally limited to sales. Western and Central Africa is still lagging behind other regions in terms of company presence, and investments in local seed business activities such as breeding, production and processing are low. Estimates indicate that the 13 global seed companies together reach no more than 10% of the world’s 500 million small farms.

Further reading

Key Finding 2


Ten countries benefit most from investments in local seed business activities

All 13 global seed companies invest in local seed business activities such as breeding, production and processing in index regions. However, these investments are concentrated in a small number of countries. As a result, the seed sector in other countries benefits less from these kinds of investments. The ten countries with the most investments are India, Thailand, Indonesia, The Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Guatemala and Peru. Only two companies report investing in local breeding and one other in production in Western and Central Africa.

Further reading

Key Finding 3


Hybrid seed dominates company portfolios

Global seed companies focus on a select number of field crops and, with the exception of soybean, largely ignore legumes. Hybrid seed dominates. None of the companies with field crops in their portfolio report selling open-pollinated varieties (OPVs), which farmers can save and reuse, with the exception of wheat and soybean. For vegetables, the companies together offer all index vegetables. While hybrids are also emphasized in vegetable crops, four companies – East-West Seed, Limagrain, Sakata and Advanta – have a strategic focus on developing OPVs alongside hybrids. For maize and soybean, three and two companies respectively report having genetically modified varieties in their portfolio.

Further reading

Key Finding 4

Sustainable Development Goals

The majority of global seed companies have formal commitments to the SDGs

The 2016 Index showed that only three companies had formal commitments to food and nutrition security as part of an overall corporate strategy. Since then, companies have demonstrated clear progress in the integration of sustainability strategies at the corporate level. Eight of the 13 global seed companies now report aligning their operations with the SDGs. Three companies lead the way in terms of linking their commitments to specific policies, company activities and transparent, measurable targets.

Further reading

Key Finding 5

Climate Change

Breeding for climate-resilient varieties is increasing

Breeding for climate-resilient field crop and vegetable varieties is the key contribution global seed companies make to climate action and appears to have increased compared to 2016. Companies report ongoing investment in the development and marketing of climate-resilient varieties, through their own breeding programs or in collaboration with others. The diversity of their portfolio, provision of farmer training and services such as weather insurance are also mentioned as ways to help farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions. In terms of climate change mitigation, multiple companies are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at operational and farm levels.

Further reading

Key Finding 6


Nutritional value is increasingly a breeding target but not yet a high priority

Six global seed companies state that nutritional value is a target for their breeding programs, a slight increase on the four companies identified in 2016. Some companies collaborate with others, like HarvestPlus, to improve the nutritional value of field crops such as millet and sorghum. Vegetable seed companies emphasize the importance of vegetables in a diverse and nutritious diet and seek to support dietary diversity by offering a diverse portfolio that includes local vegetables.

Further reading

Key Finding 7

Access and Benefit sharing

The seed industry is pushing for a workable way to improve access and benefit-sharing

In recent years, the seed industry has taken steps to acknowledge that access to genetic resources should be linked to sharing the benefits of such access. Bayer is the first company to make a monetary contribution to the Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), under the current use-based regulations. An industry proposal was put forward for an additional ‘subscription-only model’. This would give companies access to genetic material from (public) gene banks based on an annual contribution calculated as a percentage of their annual seed sales. Limagrain took a leading role on behalf of the industry in international negotiations around this proposal.

Further reading

Measurement Areas

The assessment of company performance is based on a total of 59 indicators grouped in seven measurement areas. Each measurement area has four categories of indicators: Commitment, Performance, Transparency and Leadership. A company’s overall score is the weighted sum of the scores in each measurement area.

Governance & Strategy

Global seed companies demonstrate clear progress in the integration of sustainability strategies at corporate level. Eight of the 13 companies report aligning their operations with the SDGs. Smallholder farmers are an increasingly important focus of company activities.

Ranking for Governance & Strategy

Syngenta is the clear leader in Governance & Strategy, demonstrating transparent reporting on progress toward sustainability targets in its Good Growth Plan, closely interlinking the SDGs and its smallholder farmer strategies, assigning responsibility at the board level and participating widely in activities to improve local seed sectors and enhance enabling environments in a significant number of index countries.

Corteva Agriscience, Bayer and East-West Seed also perform strongly, providing evidence of corporate-led sustainability strategies with dedicated resources and activities aimed at improving access to seeds for smallholder farmers. Monsanto’s Growing Better Together sustainability reporting joins Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan as a leading global example.

Advanta and Limagrain have a range of corporate programs and initiatives in place that benefit smallholder farmers, without specifically targeting these farmers as a unique client group. Companies at the lower end of the ranking typically do not articulate positions on the SDGs and/or smallholder farming, and lack accountability toward and credibility with stakeholders for failing to state relevant corporate commitments publicly.

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Genetic Resources

Most global seed companies have established national or international partnerships to conserve genetic diversity and adhere to national laws and international treaties, often through in-kind or financial donations. However, few companies demonstrate activities that go beyond legal obligations.

Ranking for Genetic Resources

Bayer leads the ranking for its monetary use-based contribution within the access and benefit-sharing framework, and for disclosing its track and trace system designed to accommodate access to and use of genetic resources. East-West Seed, in second place, provides in-kind support for research institutes, gene banks and connected research teams to enhance crop diversity in index countries. Syngenta, which ranks third, demonstrates a high degree of commitment to crop diversity and transparency in its activities.

Corteva Agriscience scores well for its monetary contributions to conservation efforts. Limagrain, with support from other companies, promotes a simplified industry-wide financial scheme to enhance access to and benefit-sharing of crop genetic resources.

Bayer and Limagrain receive leadership points for their contributions to strengthened collaboration between seed companies and the Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

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Intellectual Property

A small majority of global seed companies explicitly state that they do not restrict farm-saved seed practices through intellectual property (IP) protection. Several companies provide royalty-free access to protected materials and technologies for collaborative projects that result in varieties benefiting smallholder farmers.

Ranking for Intellectual Property

East-West Seed, Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience perform well in this measurement area, with positions on IP that consider the needs of smallholder farmers. East-West Seed demonstrates many relevant practices, including developing open-pollinated varieties for many of the crops in its portfolio, adopting a favorable position on farm-saved seeds and opposing patenting of native traits. Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience’s high scores are due in part to their provision of royalty-free access to their protected materials and technologies in collaborative projects.

The level of transparency among the companies that disclose their position on IP varies significantly. Companies publicly state their position on patents and plant variety laws but often disclose little about their position regarding farm-saved seed practices.

A lack of transparency on their IP activities in relation to smallholder farmers results in low scores for Bejo, Enza Zaden, KWS and Sakata.

Corteva Agriscience’s royalty-free licensing of its CRISPR-Cas and Optimum Haploid Value™ technology and Monsanto’s royalty-free contribution of maize materials and technologies to the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project are examples of leading practices that facilitate the development of maize and cassava varieties for smallholder farmers in index countries.

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Research & Development

Global seed companies invest heavily in breeding stations in South and Southeast Asia and increasingly in Eastern and Southern Africa. Similar investments in Western and Central Africa are limited. Although attention for nutritional value is increasing, it is not currently a high breeding priority.

Ranking for Research & Development

East-West Seed clearly outranks its peers in this measurement area, thanks to its comprehensive breeding program targeting smallholder farmers in index countries and breeding stations in every index region. Through its breeding programs, the company collaborates with national research partners and trains plant breeders who will continue addressing the needs of smallholder farmers in the future. Bayer scores well for its broad commitment to developing traits suitable for smallholder farmers. Bayer also has extensive collaborative research projects, and systematically incorporates local knowledge and feedback into its breeding programs.

Limagrain develops an extensive range of local crops in South and Southeast Asia, Latin America and Eastern and Southern Africa. It also has breeding programs that address traits important for smallholder farmers, such as shelf life and abiotic stress resistance.

Rijk Zwaan, Corteva Agriscience and Syngenta are tied in this measurement area. Corteva Agriscience only develops field crops. Syngenta carries out much of its smallholder-oriented research and development through the affiliated Syngenta Foundation, which collaborates with organizations in index countries.

Rijk Zwaan receives leadership points for Afrisem, its breeding station in Tanzania where hybrid varieties of local crops are being developed; Bejo for developing true potato seed varieties for index countries; and Corteva Agriscience for its innovative approaches to combating fall armyworm.

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Seed Production

Local seed production activities are mainly found in South and Southeast Asia, and are almost totally lacking in Western and Central Africa. In Asia, smallholder farmers are often involved in seed production. Despite strong commitments to tackling it, child labor remains a concern for the industry as a whole.

Ranking for Seed Production

Syngenta and East-West Seed clearly outrank their peers in Seed Production, owing to the broad scope of their seed production activities in the index regions.

Global seed companies have adopted corporate-led approaches for ensuring fair labor conditions in seed production. Ten companies have implemented strict measures to prohibit child labor in seed production.

Enza Zaden, KWS and Bejo lack commitment to local seed production in index countries and are not transparent about any activities they may have in this area.

Syngenta earns recognition for its ‘Look after every worker’ commitment, which strives to ensure fair labor conditions along its supply chain. The company also demonstrates leadership for setting targets for this commitment and reporting progress toward these targets.

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Marketing & Sales

Global seed companies sell only a portion of their portfolio in index countries. Although companies tailor their approaches to smallholders, overall, transparency around sales activities is low, making it difficult to assess the industry’s full reach.

Ranking for Marketing & Sales

East-West Seed leads the ranking for Marketing & Sales, thanks to a broad portfolio of crops and varieties offered throughout most index countries, along with a marketing and sales approach tailored to smallholder farmers.

Bayer and Syngenta follow, with dedicated commitments in this area as well as strong performance in tailoring packages and promoting the sustainable use of other agricultural inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers. However, Syngenta’s score could have been higher if the company had been more transparent about the availability of its portfolio. Advanta owes its fourth-place position to its smallholder-focused marketing strategies, demonstration events and an innovative okra assurance scheme in India. 

Corteva Agriscience’s decent performance can be attributed to its broad global presence. Even so, the company focuses its main marketing activities on a limited number of the 45 index countries it serves. Similarly, Limagrain has a notably diverse portfolio but provides little evidence of marketing activities in most index countries.

Although companies are relatively transparent about their marketing and sales activities compared to other measurement areas, they are encouraged to disclose more information about their portfolio and the existence and nature of their marketing activities in index countries.

Two companies stand out for their leadership practices. East-West Seed’s seed packages ensure affordability (‘Value’ pouch) or contain important information and instructions (‘Go Grow’ pack). Syngenta’s insurance schemes in India, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda help farmers manage their business risks while addressing climatic hazards.

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Capacity Building

Global seed companies are involved in capacity building activities in all index regions, often in partnership. However, in a large number of countries where companies have a sales presence, only a few accompany these with extension services for smallholder farmers. A specific focus on women and next-generation farmers is generally lacking.

Ranking for Capacity Building

Bayer leads the way in Capacity Building, demonstrating a broad range of activities and detailing innovative projects to address the needs of smallholder farmers. The company receives leadership points for its Food Chain Partnership output market scheme in countries including Kenya, Guatemala and India.

Bayer is closely followed by East-West Seed, whose Knowledge Transfer foundation provides comprehensive agronomic training in South and Southeast Asia and increasingly in Africa, and Syngenta, which along with its affiliated Syngenta Foundation, are at the forefront of smallholder farmer capacity building, particularly in Western and Central Africa. In fourth place, Corteva Agriscience provides holistic and interlinked training across both African index regions with its AMSAP, GAMSAP and ZAMSAP hybrid maize adoption programs, for which it also receives leadership points.

Companies in the middle of the ranking also report extension services in index countries, but these tend to be standalone and without clear linkages to general company operations. Companies at the lower end of the ranking demonstrate more limited activities, both in terms of scope and variety.

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Company Scorecards

The index presents scorecards for each company, which can be accessed via the links below. The scorecards highlight a company’s presence and portfolio, leading practices and notable findings. They also present comparative strengths in relation to the other companies assessed.

View here to see how the company ranking works.

A farmer in Guatemala is harvesting cauliflower after receiving training through Bayer’s Food Chain Partnership. The initiative is a global program that seeks to implement best agricultural practices in food value chains and is active in ten index countries. Through certification support and field demonstrations the program aims to ensure that smallholder farmers meet consumer requirements regarding food quality, safety and traceability.
Photo credit: Bayer

Country Profiles

The country profiles provide an overview of the presence and activities of all 62 index companies in each of the 65 countries in scope of the Access to Seeds Index.


The online and printed reports presented by the Access to Seeds Index are intended to be for information purposes only and not as promotional material in any respect. The material is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument. The reports are not intended to provide accounting, legal or tax advice or investment recommendations.

As a multi-stakeholder and collaborative project the Access to Seeds Index involves members of relevant stakeholder groups in expert or advisory committees. The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in Access to Seeds Index reports may not necessarily reflect the views of all involved or the organizations they represent.

The data used to compile the Access to Seeds Index, the ranking and findings are based on information publicly disclosed by companies or submitted on engagement. Information has been cross-checked and where relevant, verified with experts. Final scorecards were discussed with individual companies for fact checking purposes. Whilst based on information believed to be reliable, no guarantee can be given that it is accurate or complete.

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The Access to Seeds Index 2019 is made possible through the collaborative team efforts of many experts, authors, researchers, analysts and funders. Also the guidance from the Expert Review Committees and the Supervisory Board, as well as the cooperation with the team of the World Benchmarking Alliance have been helpful.

On the side of companies, representatives have been available to provide feedback on the methodology in various stages of the development process. Also teams have been working on gathering and submitting the requested data and provide clarification where necessary.

The Access to Seeds Foundation is grateful for the contributions and expertise, of each and would like to offer thanks to those who provided valuable feedback throughout the development of the Access to Seeds Index.

No part of this report may be reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the Access to Seeds Foundation.

Cecily Layzell, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Kummer & Herrman, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Web development
Studio September, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Knowledge Transfer Foundation:
East-West Seed
Food Chain Partnership: Bayer
Governance & Strategy: East-West Seed
Genetic Resources: ICRISAT
Intellectual Property: I. Angarawai, ICRISAT
Research & Development: V. Bouchet, Limagrain
Seed Production: Syngenta
Marketing & Sales: H. Sudhakar, Advanta
Capacity Building: Bayer