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Global seed companies set the example, with comprehensive strategies in place to support smallholder productivity and achieve the SDGs. Most regional companies see smallholders as their main clientele but do not communicate clear targets that would increase their accountability.
The measurement area Governance & Strategy evaluates whether companies have strategies in place to contribute to smallholder farmer productivity and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The United Nations states that the SDGs are ‘the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’. Introduced in 2015 and running until 2030, the SDGs provide a global framework with science-based targets and recognize that a range of stakeholders, including the private sector, play a role in achieving the goals.
To realistically contribute, high-performing companies link specific SDGs (most frequently SDG 2, Zero Hunger) to relevant company activities, provide evidence that these activities are linked to measurable business targets and embed these within corporate reporting. Dedicated sustainability or corporate responsibility reports are used to track progress. Seven companies currently produce these as free and publicly available documents. Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan and Monsanto’s Growing Better Together are leading examples but primarily address the SDGs in a global business context. Charoen Pokphand follows the reporting structure of its leading global peers. All three companies provide year-by-year tracking of progress, set against a baseline figure and with an end date of 2020.
Acsen HyVeg, Advanta, Bayer and East-West Seed report commitments to one or more of the SDGs, without providing details of corporate activities to support them. Kalash Seeds and Metahelix have in place formal statements regarding the economic, environmental and/or social aspects of their work, without addressing the SDGs associated with each. In total, 12 companies refer (formally or otherwise) to the SDGs, with a further six alluding to at least one aspect of sustainable development. Low-scoring companies are encouraged to introduce sustainability strategies at the earliest opportunity in order to align their business activities with the SDGs and to demonstrate industry-wide commitment to stakeholders.
The four companies – Syngenta, Corteva Agriscience, East-West Seed and Bayer – with the most comprehensive governance systems and commitments relating to access to seeds for smallholder farmers are all global, with three of these headquartered outside South and Southeast Asia. The fourth, Thailand-based East-West Seed, leads in terms of its smallholder-centric business model, which is reflected in a client base made up almost entirely (98%) of smallholders. In comparison, smallholders comprise on average 79% of the clientele of Bayer, Corteva Agriscience and Syngenta in South and Southeast Asia and 34% globally. Acknowledging this distinction, all three companies have published policy statements and corporate targets, implemented dedicated activities for the specific benefit of smallholder farmers and, crucially, differentiated these farmers from their broader clientele.
The majority of regional companies perform comparatively poorly when it comes to corporate strategies relating to access to seeds for smallholder farmers. This may partially reflect the significant role that smallholders play in the region, with nearly all regional companies considering them to be their main clientele in at least some geographic areas. As such, these companies do not differentiate their business approaches toward smallholder farmers, as in many cases general approaches already address the needs of this client group. Acsen HyVeg (India) states that most of its hybrid varieties are intended for smallholder farmers, and Known-You Seed (Taiwan) and Namdhari Seeds (India) note that smallholder farmers are the main producers in local agriculture and thus a natural client base.
Compared to their global counterparts, regionally active companies typically underperform in other key areas of Governance & Strategy beyond access to seeds. One example is Bayer and Syngenta’s accessible and rigorous codes of conduct for lobbying, anti-corruption and social/labor standards, which are based on universal guidelines from the United Nations and/or the International Labor Organization, along with evidence of regular monitoring and training. Known-You Seed and Lal Teer Seed state that they have such codes but do not make them publicly available and hence not available for scrutiny. Nonetheless, these two companies still outperform several others that display a broad lack of information, public or otherwise, pertaining to their governance structures. Broadcasting this and other relevant strategic information increases a company’s transparency and strengthens its accountability and credibility with stakeholders.
Companies can help to improve the enabling environment for smallholder farmers through policy harmonization, country-level regulations, and seed registration and certification. Many companies view seed association membership as a vehicle to drive change. Corteva Agriscience, for instance, regards engagement and advocacy through and by seed associations as a ‘critical activity’. As shown throughout the index, India dominates company presence and activity in the region: 15 of the 24 companies state that they are a member of a seed association in India.
The difficulty of policy harmonization and moving the industry toward a common goal is reflected in recent developments in India. In 2016, eight companies – Bayer, Bioseed, Corteva Agriscience, Mahyco, Metahelix, Monsanto, Namdhari Seeds and Syngenta – founded the Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII). Acsen HyVeg and Advanta joined soon after. Most of these companies were already members of the older National Seed Association of India (NSAI) and some (including Mahyco and Monsanto) left following disagreement about the association’s strategic direction.
Elsewhere, countries with relatively immature or non-existent seed associations or trade bodies, including Afghanistan, Cambodia and Laos, are disproportionately under-represented, with no companies reporting to actively contribute to the enabling environment in these countries. Lal Teer Seed, which is the only company to report such activity in Nepal, states that its presence in the country is already a contribution. At the same time, companies provided evidence of one-off activities which, although potentially beneficial, are stand-alone examples and do not encompass the full range of possible contributions to improving the enabling environment for both the industry and smallholder farmers. Examples include Advanta participating in policy-making initiatives with the Indian Ministry of Agriculture, Bayer leading the policy harmonization group under the Asia Pacific Seed Association (APSA), East-West Seed providing input to the consultation group on new Plant Variety Protection (PVP) laws in Thailand and Lal Teer Seed contributing to policy dialogue in Bangladesh.
Corteva Agriscience and Nuziveedu Seeds are notable for their holistic approach to improving the enabling environment in the countries where they are active, primarily through the scope (Corteva Agriscience) or specifics (Nuziveedu Seeds) of their activities.
Unlike their regional counterparts, a number of the global companies provide specific details of partnerships and collaborations within local seed sectors. Corteva Agriscience supports the Philippine Maize Federation (PhilMaize), an organization of maize farmers, through the promotion of biotech products; East-West Seed coordinates contract growing with seven farmer cooperatives in the Philippines, which cumulatively produce 99% of the company’s seeds in the country; and Syngenta has created six for-profit farmer centers in Bangladesh, with the aim of transforming smallholder market capabilities. Known-You Seed, Lal Teer Seed, Namdhari Seeds, Nuziveedu Seeds and Metahelix offer programs involving local farmers, groups and cooperatives in activities including seed production, variety trials and extension services.
Few companies have a clear position on the so-called informal seed sector, which includes on-farm seed-saving practices and farmer-to-farmer seed exchange based on barter or social obligation. Some companies recognize the value of open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) as an alternative seed source to hybrid varieties. Nuziveedu Seeds, for instance, promotes such varieties as in the interests of smallholder farmers, and Acsen HyVeg dedicates part of its R&D budget and sales resources to encouraging OPV adoption by its clientele.
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 played an important role in the development of Myanmar’s seed sector over the index period of 2015-17. In December 2017, the company facilitated a visit by government officials from Myanmar to the Philippines to learn about that country’s experience of establishing a seed sector, its regulatory framework and the potential role of public-private partnerships in its further development.
East-West Seed was also involved in the formation of the Myanmar Seed Association. The company now co-chairs the Working Group on Horticulture of the Myanmar Agriculture Network and is a member of the Food Security Working Group of the Myanmar Fruits and Vegetable Producer Association.