Regional companies do not report having strategies to improve the conservation and use of genetic resources in Western and Central Africa. While global companies demonstrate commitments in this area, only rarely do they have activities that go beyond legal obligations. Regional companies, the majority of which do not have their own breeding program, lack efforts to conserve regionally significant germplasm.
This measurement area seeks to clarify how companies support the conservation of genetic resources, ranging from in-company activities to sharing the benefits arising from company use of publicly available genetic material.
As the growth of the formal seed sector can reduce local crop diversity conserved on farms and in communities, seed companies have a role to play in limiting the impact of this trend. This can be done in various ways, starting with corporate commitments and activities in this area. Regional companies are generally not linked with international agreements, nor do they demonstrate engagement in local activities to conserve genetic resources.
Treaties that are important for the conservation and use of genetic resources are the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its supplementary Nagoya Protocol and the ITPGRFA. The CBD governs all biological resources, whereas the ITPGRFA more specifically addresses food agrobiodiversity conservation and use, and hence is more directly related to the business of seed companies.
Global companies such as East-West Seed, Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience all have extensive breeding programs and broad-based commitments to the conservation and use of genetic resources in accordance with international agreements. None of the regional companies have similar commitments, whereas only Nankosem, Seed Co and Semagri demonstrate conservation efforts specifically oriented toward conservation of germplasm housed in their own gene banks. Twenty companies (87%) did not provide details of how they aim to conserve genetic resources important for the region, which can in part be explained by a lack of breeding activities by 12 of the companies assessed.
In the context of the ITPGRFA and the CBD, access and benefit-sharing (ABS) refers to the way in which companies obtain genetic resources and how they share the benefits that result from their use, thereby contributing to international efforts to promote the conservation and use of genetic resources. Contributions can be either monetary or in-kind.
Of the 22 index companies, 19 (83%) have not made their genetic resources available to others for research purposes or otherwise, and 20 (87%) have not engaged in benefit-sharing activities. Programs or partnerships involving the conservation and use of genetic diversity in farmers’ fields or informal seed systems are also absent.
To ensure compliance with ABS and disclose the source of germplasm used to develop proprietary varieties, companies should have track and trace systems to monitor the flow of germplasm in their breeding programs. Global companies use customized track and trace systems for their genetic resources. East-West Seed and Syngenta use dedicated IT programs in accordance with the ITPGRFA and describe the systems they use in depth, including where they source accessions and the methods by which they catalog and monitor their ABS agreements.
Pop Vriend Seeds has a track and trace system that it reports is in accordance with the ITPGRFA and Nagoya Protocol to facilitate future benefit-sharing. The companies in the Novalliance – Nankosem, Semagri, Tropicasem and Technisem – use generic computer software to maintain breeding and accession records. Premier Seed, Maslaha Seeds and Value Seeds all report that their track and trace systems are under development.