Global seed companies invest heavily in breeding stations in South and Southeast Asia and increasingly in Eastern and Southern Africa. Comparable investments in Western and Central Africa are limited. Although attention for nutritional value is increasing, it is not currently a high breeding priority.
This measurement area evaluates whether company breeding efforts benefit smallholder farmers. Through breeding, new higher yielding varieties can become available that are more resilient to changing weather conditions, resistant to attacks from plant pests and diseases and have longer shelf life and higher nutritional value.
Compared to the other index regions, companies invest heavily in plant breeding stations in South and Southeast Asia, where 12 of the 13 companies are active. In India alone, 11 companies have breeding locations. The country with the second-highest concentration of breeding activities is Thailand, where nine companies have research locations. Rice, maize and vegetables are the main crops bred in South and Southeast Asia.
Seven companies have breeding activities in Latin America and Eastern and Southern Africa. In Latin America, Guatemala and Peru have a high concentration of breeding locations. Soybean and maize are important crops bred in the region.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, South Africa and Tanzania have the highest concentration of breeding stations. Vegetables and maize are important crops bred in the region. East-West Seed and Syngenta are the only companies that report having breeding activities in Western and Central Africa.
Improving local crops can demonstrate a commitment to agrobiodiversity conservation and use by stewarding foods of regional importance. While companies prioritize breeding for local crops in South and Southeast Asia, where vegetables are a strong market focus, regionally significant local crops in Africa are also an increasing priority for companies.
Through its Afrisem breeding program in Tanzania, Rijk Zwaan introduced its first hybrid African eggplant varieties (Kazinga RZ, Kerio RZ and Limpopo RZ) for the African market in 2017. Afrisem’s breeding program also includes other local vegetables such as African kale and African hot pepper.
Limagrain breeds for local crops in three index regions, while East-West Seed breeds for local crops in all four index regions. The scope of East-West Seed’s local crop breeding activities, which encompasses 18 unique species, demonstrates the company’s commitment to developing crops that are culturally preferred and significant to smallholder farmers. KWS is working with the National University of Altiplano in Puno, Peru to develop a quinoa-focused breeding program.
Although companies prioritize varieties with enhanced abiotic and biotic stress tolerance, including resistance to regional pests and diseases, and shelf life, traits relating to cultural tastes and preferences and improved nutritional value are less emphasized in breeding programs.
However, compared to the findings of the 2016 Index, attention for nutritional value is increasing. For example, Bayer is collaborating with HarvestPlus on the development of biofortified millet, by participating in multi-location hybrid and parent seed trials for high-iron lines that have the potential to address the iron requirements of rural communities.
Companies collaborate with a multitude of research institutes to develop varieties with traits useful for smallholder farmers in index countries, such as abiotic and biotic stress tolerance. Through these collaborations, seed companies can access germplasm from pre-breeding programs of research institutes, thereby rapidly expediting access to improved varieties on the market.
Corteva Agriscience, through its partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to address maize lethal necrosis (MLN) disease, provides access to CRISPR-Cas gene editing solutions in Eastern and Southern Africa. Technology developed by the company will work toward controlling this difficult maize pathogen that spreads rapidly and causes significant yield loss.
Syngenta also works with CIMMYT on the same project to combat MLN, developing and delivering diagnostic tools such as early detection that can allow farmers to eliminate diseased plants and avoid total crop loss.
In partnership with the National Maize Breeding Program and Institute for Agricultural Innovation (INIA) in Peru, KWS’ Capacity Development initiative promotes the development of new, locally adapted and high-yielding corn and quinoa varieties. This partnership also serves to strengthen national corn breeding programs and introduce improved varieties that can thrive in acidic soils.
Syngenta and CIMMYT, with support from the Syngenta Foundation, have successfully bred a range of affordable and drought-tolerant hybrid maize varieties aimed at poor smallholder communities in marginal environments in three drought-prone states in India. The hybrids incorporate drought-resistant traits from local African sources into adapted South Asian germplasm. In collaboration with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, Monsanto is developing a cowpea resistant to pod borer.
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.
Following 15 years of research, Bejo released its first true potato seed variety in Africa in 2017. Potatoes are normally grown from vegetatively propagated tubers, called seed potatoes, whereas true potato seed varieties are grown from seed.
Unlike seed potatoes, true potato seed can be stored for much longer and is much easier to transport, ensuring wider availability of and access to potato planting materials on the market. Bejo will focus on Africa, Asia and Central America in the coming years for further testing and knowledge transfer.
Corteva Agriscience shows leadership for its comprehensive approach to combating fall armyworm (FAW) in Africa. Since 2016, FAW has quickly spread across the continent, causing significant damage to crops such as maize.
Corteva Agriscience’s approach combines classical 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, which it uses to study 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.
Rijk Zwaan’s Afrisem breeding station has launched a breeding program for hybrid varieties of local vegetables dedicated to the East African market. The company has launched its first hybrids for African eggplant and is also working on Sukuma wiki.