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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.
This measurement area evaluates companies’ marketing and sales activities. Companies can improve access to seeds by offering smallholder farmers a diverse portfolio of crops and varieties, innovative and tailored packaging, trusted distribution channels reaching remote areas, demonstration plots and schemes to improve affordability.
With a couple of exceptions, companies sell only fraction of their general crop portfolio in index countries. This impacts access to seeds for smallholder farmers as they are restricted to a less diversified list of crops, which in turn limits their business development potential and resilience. Typically, companies offer around 20% of their portfolio in index countries, focusing on a handful of key crops such as maize in the case of Corteva Agriscience and Advanta outside of South and Southeast Asia.
East-West Seed is a clear exception, offering, on average, 16 global vegetables out of the 17 in its general portfolio. This high number could be explained by its research and development focus on tropical agriculture, which is typical for index countries.
Limagrain is another exception, offering close to half of its portfolio (ten of the 25 global crops in its general portfolio) in most index countries.
Most companies’ offering is limited to hybrid varieties, which are typically sold at higher prices and must be repurchased before each growing season. Only Advanta, East-West Seed, Limagrain and Sakata strategically develop and/or market open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) alongside hybrids in index regions. By doing so, these companies provide access to varieties that tend to be more affordable for smallholder farmers than advanced hybrids while also addressing farmers’ different capacity levels. In addition, OPVs lend themselves to on-farm seed saving practices.
Most seed companies supply seed to many index countries, including the remotest areas within them, such the Indian tribal belt (Advanta) or the Guatemalan highlands (East-West Seed). Sakata is the clear leader here, selling its seeds in 80% of index countries.
While these companies’ geographic scope is impressive, given the diversity of legal, climatic and commercial contexts in each index country, several countries have yet to be reached.
This is particularly noticeable in Western and Central Africa. The ten countries with the fewest companies present are all in Africa, and nine of these are in Western and Central Africa.
None of the companies report seed sales in Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia. In a handful of countries, only one company has sales activities: East-West Seed in the Central African Republic and Mauritania, Corteva Agriscience in Chad and Limagrain in Guinea.
The vast majority of companies adapt their packaging to the needs of smallholder farmers. Local languages can be found on the packages of most companies, either as a legal requirement or as a marketing strategy. Most companies also offer small seed packages. Suitable for a smaller acreage, the smallest packages range from a handful of seeds for some vegetables to 1kg for a field crop like maize.
Pictograms, which are particularly suited to illiterate farmers, provide specific instructions for seed use. Such pictograms are common on the packages of at least four companies: Bayer, East-West Seed, Sakata and Syngenta. East-West Seed takes the lead, however, with its innovative ‘Go Grow’ packages that enable farmers to access a Plant Doctor online through a QR code.
This tool, available in the Philippines and Thailand, aims to help farmers diagnose plant diseases in crops.
Weather calamities and infestations are major problems for smallholder farmers worldwide. Several seed companies have schemes in place to support improved seed affordability in the event of crop failure and replanting. For example, Advanta, in collaboration with ICICI Prudential, offered an ‘assurance’ scheme in India to protect against viral infections of an okra hybrid during the peak virus infestation season in 2017. Advanta states that the scheme, which cannot be called insurance for legal reasons, is the first of its kind for plant diseases. Bayer, Corteva Agriscience and Syngenta offer insurance against weather calamities. Bayer collaborated with insurance provider ICICI Lombard in India to help protect farmers against delayed or deficient rainfall by reimbursing the extra cost of hybrid rice seed. Corteva Agriscience has a similar program for maize and rice farmers in the Philippines whose crops are damaged as a result of natural calamities.
Some companies, such as Rijk Zwaan in Tanzania, help smallholder farmers access micro-financing.
All companies adhere to strict international quality standards for their products, such as seed-testing procedures set by the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA), guaranteeing vigor and germination rates and purity. Similarly, companies have established channels, usually app or phone based, to receive complaints and feedback from customers. However, these are mostly available in South and Southeast Asia, leaving African markets with fewer after-sales mechanisms.
Counterfeit seed is a major issue, as it threatens the viability and reputation of seed companies while adding unpredictability in farmers’ fields. A couple of companies detail their efforts to tackle counterfeit seed. Rijk Zwaan cooperates with the seed industry Anti Infringement Bureau, which helps its members to prevent and pursue cases related to counterfeit seed. Syngenta’s approach is the most extensive and covers packaging features, a detailed Security Code of Practice and a ‘big fish’ strategy whereby higher value cases in the distribution chain are targeted.
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.
East-West Seed’s marketing and sales approach, which is tailored entirely to the needs of smallholder farmers, is leading in the industry. The company, which originates in Thailand but has global activities, stands out for its innovative ‘Go Grow’ packages, available in the Philippines and Thailand, which can feature pictograms and a QR code, allowing farmers to access its Plant Doctor ITC service.
The company’s broad portfolio, which is available in almost all countries where it is active and includes over 900 varieties, among them a high number of local crops, is also worthy of recognition. In addition, the company reports that its far-reaching distribution channels supply the remotest areas.
Syngenta and the affiliated Syngenta Foundation have developed insurance schemes in India, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda to help farmers manage their business risks while addressing climatic hazards. By 2017, over 1 million farmers in the three African countries were insured through one of these schemes, which are delivered through local insurance agents.
Syngenta conducts risk assessments, monitoring and product development to tailor insurance schemes to smallholder farmers. Insurance is distributed through four main channels: seed distribution linked to a mobile network operator’s location service, agribusinesses with outgrowers or contracted farmers, lending institutions and savings and credits cooperatives. Typically, insurance protects crops for the first 21 days after planting.