KWS SAAT SE (KWS) is a plant-breeding company which, together with its subsidiaries, has a global reach. It has 30 breeding stations and 150 testing stations around the world that focus on moderate climatic zones in Europe, North and South America and China. It operates primarily through its maize, sugar beet and cereals divisions. The maize division produces and sells seed for maize, soybean, sunflower and sorghum. The sugar beet division used to breed sugar beet and potato, but in 2016, KWS sold its traditional potato breeding business. The cereal division produces and distributes seed for rye, wheat and barley. KWS was founded in 1856.

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Global Seed Companies

Summary of results:

KWS ranks 12th out of 13 index companies, generally performing poorly across measurement areas. The company reports addressing six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through its products, resulting in Commitment scores in Governance & Strategy. It also exhibits some strengths in Genetic Resources. Although the company has some activities in index regions, these do not demonstrate a commitment to smallholder farming, and hence the company’s efforts do not translate into high scores in most measurement areas.

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Operations in Scope
  • Countries in Scope
  • Company Presence
  • Production Locations
  • Breeding Station/R&D
Index Crops in Portfolio
Field crops
Leading Practices

    KWS assists local gene banks in Peru with the management of genetic resources for maize and quinoa, and in Ethiopia for wheat and barley, by sharing its experience of conserving and using genetic resources. In addition to developing the skills of plant breeders, the company donates parent material for crossing and/or provides equipment and financial support for field trials.

Areas for Improvement

    KWS is encouraged to build on its capacity development projects in Peru and Ethiopia to make an explicit link between its corporate breeding and distribution activities and operations in index countries

    The company discloses limited information about its business activities in index countries. It is encouraged to provide greater transparency regarding its operations in index countries, and how these link to access to seeds for smallholder farmers.

Notable Findings

    KWS integrated its sustainability report into its 2017/2018 annual report, linking its SDG targets to company activities.

    In 2016, the company published a statement on biodiversity that covers its position on the conservation and use of genetic resources in light of their importance for food and nutrition. In the statement, the company confirms the relevance of international standards, such as the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and Nagoya Protocol, and commits to efforts for the conservation and use of genetic resources of all crops.

    As part of its contribution to the conservation of plant genetic resources, the company supports scientific projects in Ethiopia and Peru. At a corporate level, the company has implemented track and trace systems documenting the origin of all genetic material used in its breeding program.

    The company has a code of business ethics for suppliers that covers anti-corruption, child and forced labor, health and safety, living conditions and minimum wages. Compliance is monitored through audits.