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 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Smallholder farmers are an increasingly important focus of company activities.
This measurement area evaluates whether companies have strategies in place to contribute to smallholder farmer productivity and the SDGs.
The 2016 Index saw the majority of global companies disclosing commitments related to aspects of food and nutrition security. However, only three companies (Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer – since merged with Dow AgroSciences to form Corteva Agriscience – and Bayer) formalized these commitments as part of an overall corporate strategy. Fast forward to 2019, and the seed industry’s leading global companies demonstrate clear progress in the integration of sustainability strategies at the corporate level. Eight of the 13 companies report aligning their operations with the SDGs, and three lead the way in terms of linking their commitments to specific policies, company activities and transparent, measurable targets.
The six commitments of Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan each align with one or more SDG, with a combined contribution toward SDGs 2 (Zero Hunger) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). With respect to index countries, the ‘Rescue more farmland’ commitment outlines the company’s work with rice smallholders in Indonesia to implement conservation practices for addressing SDGs 13 (Climate Action) and 15 (Life on Land). Additionally, its contribution to SDG 1 (No Poverty) as part of the ‘Empower smallholders’ commitment includes collaborating with TechnoServe to improve productivity and market access for tomato and potato smallholders in Kenya.
Monsanto’s Growing Better Together strategy is based on three key focus areas: Better Planet, Better Lives and Better Partner. Within Better Lives, the stated aim of the company’s participation in the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is to contribute to SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Corteva Agriscience’s approach is centered around the three key themes of Innovation, Food Security and Footprint, with the company’s internal goals linked to specific SDGs. This includes its collaborative project to address maize lethal necrosis (MLN) virus in sub-Saharan Africa, which addresses SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger) and 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing). All three companies publish progress toward their internal 2020 sustainability targets in annual, free and publicly available sustainability reports.
Limagrain and KWS also tie company activities to specific SDGs, as does Advanta through its parent company UPL. East-West Seed and Bayer have a narrower focus, noting that their operations are predominantly tied to SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). These companies generally have less specific corporate targets, particularly with regard to deadlines that help to enhance company accountability toward and credibility with stakeholders. Other companies do not have SDG strategies or do not disclose details of their strategies.
Of the companies with commitments to the SDGs, all highlight SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) in their strategies. The next five SDGs most often cited are: SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
East-West Seed is the only global seed company with both a smallholder-centric business model, whereby its entire corporate strategy is geared toward this client group, and headquarters in an index country (Thailand). The company’s predominantly smallholder client base (98%) greatly exceeds the 46% average reported by other global seed companies, and it claims to reach 19 million smallholders through sales and 100,000 through agronomic training via its Knowledge Transfer foundation.
Despite comprising a smaller proportion of their customer base, smallholder farmers nevertheless play an integral role in the corporate strategies of other global companies. By 2020, Monsanto has committed to training 4 million smallholder farmers and improving the lives of 5 million resource-poor families; Syngenta, through its Good Growth Plan, aims to reach 20 million smallholder farmers and increase their productivity by 50%; and Corteva Agriscience has pledged to improve the livelihoods of 3 million farmers and their rural communities. Similarly, Advanta aims to reach 2.5 million smallholders but does not associate this goal with a deadline. Syngenta and East-West Seed both assign responsibility for improving access to seeds at the CEO/board level. Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan is one of four key aspects of the annual board non-financial performance summary, while the key objectives of East-West Seed’s GROW strategy are formally evaluated bi-annually by the board.
Other notable companies are Bayer, Bejo and Rijk Zwaan that, since the 2016 Index, have formalized their role toward and support for smallholder farmers. Of the three, Bayer has the most comprehensive approach, introducing a three-tiered strategy to reach smallholders through education, agronomic solutions and partnerships, and assigning responsibility for achieving the strategy to its board’s Sustainable Development Committee. Limagrain assigns broad sustainability responsibility at the board level but does not differentiate smallholder farmers from its other customers. Enza Zaden reports assigning responsibility for reaching smallholder farmers at the highest corporate level without providing a formal policy to substantiate this.
The best performing companies in this measurement area are those that clearly interlink their SDG and smallholder farmer strategies. The companies that do not report on one or both of these key aspects are encouraged to formalize and publicize their positions to allow for industry-wide alignment in achieving the SDGs and simultaneously ensuring that the needs of smallholder farmers are met within the framework of the sustainable development agenda.
Although most companies can improve the alignment of their corporate strategies and formal commitments with the SDGs, the majority allocate significant resources to activities specifically targeting smallholder farmers.
As noted above, East-West Seed’s smallholder-centric business model is unique among the global seed companies and is backed up by a fixed allocation of financial resources. The company commits 4% of gross profit to its Knowledge Transfer foundation, through which it directly trains farmers, and a further 11-12% of annual sales to the development of new high-yielding and disease-resistant vegetable varieties. Syngenta stands out for its network of reference farms, on which smallholders have reported a 21.6% productivity increase since a 2014 baseline, and significant investments in developing varieties with specific traits for smallholder markets, in crops including maize, rice, wheat and vegetables. Furthermore, the affiliated Syngenta Foundation, which receives its core funding from Syngenta, allocates $3 million annually to its Seeds2B program, which explicitly focuses on improving smallholder access to quality seeds in several index countries in both Africa and Asia.
Advanta, Bayer and Corteva Agriscience also demonstrate significant investments in improving access to seeds, albeit without tying these investments to overall company budgets. Advanta states that its vegetable seed clientele is dominated by smallholder farmers, with the company dedicating substantial resources to farmer engagement programs and participatory product selection for this customer base. Bayer renewed its commitments to smallholders in 2015, dedicating resources to over a dozen initiatives in Africa and Asia, both on its own and in partnership, to improve not only access to seeds but also the livelihoods and wellbeing of its clientele. Corteva Agriscience varies its investment annually and from country to country in a multitude of initiatives including grower influencer programs, crop management support, agronomic advice and in-kind contributions related to intellectual property, technology transfer and legal guidance.
Other companies demonstrate a narrower use of resources, predominantly in programs targeted at the individual country level. Enza Zaden and Limagrain report contributing financially to the Fair Planet program in Ethiopia, which engages with smallholder farmers to facilitate access to high-quality vegetable varieties while providing smallholder farmers with agronomic training. Bejo has a strong presence in Senegal, where it plays a leading role in the onion market and works with smallholders to tackle postharvest losses and storage issues. Monsanto also performs strongly at the country level, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, thanks to Project Share 2 in India and its contribution to the Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture.
Global seed companies report a wide array of activities to improve the enabling environment for the sector in index countries. However, political, legal and regulatory instability or unpredictability continue to represent significant barriers to market entry in these countries. Many of the reported activities occur at the regional level, notably in South and Southeast Asia. Advanta states that its chief executive chairs a Special Interest Group on forage crops, Bayer reports playing a leading role in the Phytosanitary Working Group and Seed Movement Policy Harmonization Group, and East-West Seed is a member of the Executive Committee for the Special Interest Group on Vegetables as well as the Constitutional Committee and Working Group on Integrated Seed Companies. All fall under the umbrella of the Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA). While companies also report membership of the African Seed Trade Association (AFTSA) and the Seed Association of the Americas (SAA), fewer activities related to these were presented.
This regional imbalance is further underscored at the country level. Companies most frequently report being members of national seed associations in Guatemala, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, reflecting the status of these countries as major global seed hubs. In contrast, 29 countries appear to have either no recognized seed association, or, where they exist, no global company representation.
Syngenta emerges as a clear leader with respect to its level of participation, being the only global seed company linked to associations in Ghana, Burundi, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Appropriately, the company reports extensively on activities in Africa, including in Rwanda on national seed policy development, and on the Seeds2B policy work conducted by the Syngenta Foundation, which focuses on harmonizing regional seed regulations.
Other companies that have specific interventions at the national level include East-West Seed, which provided support to regulation reform and played a significant role in the formation of a seed association in Myanmar, and Bayer, which participated in public consultations on disease resistance management in Cameroon. Corteva Agriscience, Enza Zaden and Rijk Zwaan report broad contributions to activities carried out by seed associations of which they are members, while Limagrain states that it sees the creation of local subsidiaries and their subsequent membership of seed associations as crucial for supporting and contributing to policy at the country level. Overall, corporate strategies focus on strengthening and developing the enabling environments of seed hub countries with established seed sectors, whereas approaches elsewhere are sporadic and inconsistent.
In each measurement areas activities or approaches are identified that stand out or can be considered innovative in the industry. They contribute to the score of a company through leadership indicators.
As shown in the 2016 Index, Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan is a leading example of corporate sustainability reporting in the industry.
In particular, the company receives leadership points for the transparency with which it tracks progress toward 2020 targets, for instance when reporting a 2.7 million drop in the number of smallholders reached through sales in 2017, primarily because of a sharp decline in corn acreage in China.