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Smallholder farmers dominate agriculture in Western and Central Africa and are reported to be the main clientele of nearly all index companies. Even so, formal strategies to reach this group are lacking. Half of the index companies operate only in their home markets, resulting in a geographic imbalance in local seed sector development. The (lack of) enabling environment is a major constraint to the expansion of seed activities at the national and regional level.
Subsistence farming is the primary form of employment in Western and Central Africa, with 80-90% of the working population living on family farms in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Niger (1). Accordingly, all regional companies report that smallholder farmers are their main clientele, while global or pan-African companies state that smallholders are at a minimum their main clientele in some markets. Despite this, only ten index companies (43%) demonstrate formal commitments to reach this key customer group, often linked to enhancing environmental sustainability and profitability. Of these ten, only five (22%) demonstrate clear targets or tracking mechanisms.
Global company Syngenta leads the way, combining its global commitment to reach 20 million smallholder farmers by 2020 (it had reached 13.9 million by 2017) and improve their productivity by 50%, with the more region-specific Seeds2B policy work of the Syngenta Foundation. Seeds2B has an explicit focus on improving access to seeds for pre-commercial farmers, and the initiative reaches approximately 265,000 smallholders on an annual basis, including farmers in Mali and Senegal. Seed Co, which has a dominant presence in Eastern and Southern Africa, is expanding operations into Western and Central Africa and reports that engaging with smallholder farmers is crucial in emerging markets. The company states that it has set a target of reaching 40 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan African smallholders by 2025.
Nigeria-based Value Seed leads the way among its regional peers, with a commitment to make its seed available within walking distance for specifically targeted communities in Kaduna State and a highly ambitious target of servicing 10 million smallholder customers by 2035. Corteva Agriscience and Monsanto have set 2020 global targets of reaching 3 million and 4 million smallholder farmers respectively, including in Western and Central Africa. However, neither provide evidence of tracking progress toward these targets at the regional or national level.
Companies including Agriplus Mali and Da-Allgreen Seeds demonstrate transparency and therefore greater accountability toward stakeholders by publishing corporate-level commitments on their company websites to empower smallholder farmers and enhance their livelihoods, although they do not set any targets. Several regional peers report having either policies, targets or effective tracking mechanisms in place but do not disclose these publicly. Faso Kaba has a goal to reach the number of small producers needed to eradicate malnutrition and hunger in Mali, Semagri reports that it sees the development of its smallholder distribution network in Cameroon as a core company goal and the other Novalliance companies Technisem, Nankosem and Tropicasem have a joint commitment to establish 200 shops across the region.
Only global companies reference the Sustainable Development Goals. To align the industry with these goals, the other index companies should consider linking smallholder and sustainability strategies, as demonstrated by Syngenta in its Good Growth Plan.
Index companies are headquartered in eight countries in the region. These are Burkina Faso (NAFASO, Nankosem), Cameroon (Semagri), Côte d’Ivoire (BILOHF), Ghana (Heritage Seeds), Mali (Agriplus Mali, Faso Kaba, SOPROSA), Niger (AINOMA), Nigeria (Da-Allgreen Seeds, Maslaha Seeds, Premier Seed, Value Seeds) and Senegal (SEDAB, Tropicasem), with a number of other companies present in each. Accordingly, these eight are the only countries in which companies report having dedicated activities to enhance the local seed sector. Collaborations with farmer groups or cooperatives are also only reported in these countries, and predominantly by regional companies. Seed production emerges as a core activity in both developing the sector and engaging such actors.
Dedicated activities to develop the local seed sector are most often reported in three countries. In Burkina Faso, NAFASO is focusing efforts on developing and expanding rice production from Bobo-Dioulasso, while in Sourou province, Nankosem is developing a production network to enhance overall agricultural productivity in the region. In Nigeria, Da-Allgreen Seeds continuously promotes the adoption of improved seed technology, partnering with local and international organizations to drive seed sector improvements and enhance smallholder productivity. Value Seeds, also based in Nigeria, partners with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to multiply quality foundation seed for local seed companies, as well as developing maize and rice production technology kits to develop smallholders’ yield potential. In Senegal, Tropicasem reports playing a role in the development of the onion industry, including contributing to the regulation of imported seed to help establish higher levels of production.
Senegal emerges as the country with the most reported collaborations at the local level. SEDAB has contractual arrangements with local farmer organizations, providing smallholder growers with inputs including credit and enlisting technical agents to guide the growers through the production process. Similarly, SOPROSA works with organizations for seed production, as does Semagri in Cameroon and AINOMA in Niger. Agriplus Mali was one of two seed companies involved in a EUCORD/ICRISAT program that ran from 2014-17 in the Malian regions of Mopti and Sikasso. The project aimed to strengthen links between the private sector and smallholder farmers and included the signing of three seed production contracts between the company and seed cooperatives. Syngenta is the only company based outside the region to report local sector collaborations, training and upskilling groups of rice smallholder farmers in Nigeria alongside the input of improved varieties developed by AfricaRice.
As noted, countries with no index company headquarters also lack both company activities stimulating seed sector development and local collaborations. Countries such as Equatorial Guinea (with one index company present), Guinea-Bissau (one), Central African Republic (two) and Chad (two) demonstrate limited seed sector development, with a lack of company contributions being one of a myriad of potential causes.
Virtually all index companies are members of seed trade associations, either at the national or regional level. Through these associations, companies can contribute to improving the enabling environment for both farmers and businesses, typically through efforts to increase regional policy harmonization and country-level regulations and seed registration and certification. However, the environment in Western and Central Africa is challenging for expanding trade, introducing improved seed varieties and stimulating private investment, and only seven companies (32%) report tackling these issues. Geographic imbalance is further evident in the fact that 14 countries (64%) have either no recognized seed association or, where they exist, no index company representation.
Syngenta, largely through the work of its affiliated Syngenta Foundation, demonstrates the broadest contribution to improving the enabling environment. At the regional level, the foundation uses its Connect model to identify and assess the performance of new varieties, facilitate registration to permit sales, de-risk entry and broker distribution, and reports having implemented the harmonized variety release initiative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The foundation also reports benefiting 300 million consumers in Africa, smallholders or otherwise, by contributing to the release of 15 pieces of national legislation. In 2015, it began collaborating with the New Markets Lab on a case study in Ghana to assess the pace of national efforts to implement regional seed policy and the impact (or absence) of regional harmonization. Tropicasem also notes its contribution to improving regulation and harmonization through ECOWAS. Seed Co is screening and testing varieties in Nigeria and Ghana as a precursor to its planned regional expansion, and states that harmonization legislation will expedite the process. Accordingly, the company is a member of the National Seed Trade Association of Ghana (NASTAG) through which it is actively contributing to policy formulation and the development of the national seed industry.
Four regional companies lead the way through their contributions in their home (and for some, only) markets. Value Seeds is a member of the Technical Committee of Seed Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria (SEEDAN), through which it is responsible for beneficial advocacy engagements with key partners and government actors. Premier Seed is also an active member of SEEDAN, as well as heading the Seed Policy Enhancement for Africa Region (SPEAR) in seed policy reform. In Burkina Faso, Nankosem contributes to national seed policy regulation, while BILOHF lobbies to reduce seed taxes and participates in workshops on certification through the national association of Côte d’Ivoire.
Aside from Syngenta and Seed Co, none of the companies with headquarters outside the region (Corteva Agriscience, East-West Seed, Monsanto, Pop Vriend Seeds and Technisem) report being members of any national seed associations, instead contributing solely at the regional level through the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA). While seven companies report being a member of associations in Nigeria, and three each in Ghana, Mali and Senegal, 14 countries have either no seed association or index company representation, representing a further barrier to seed sector development in these countries.
Ten companies (43%) have no reported codes of business conduct for one or more of the following: anti-corruption, lobbying activities, and social and labor standards. Four companies state that they do have such codes without providing evidence to this effect, and a further five have codes in one or more areas that are not publicly disclosed. Of the four remaining companies (17%) with publicly available codes, globally active Corteva Agriscience, Monsanto and Syngenta are clear leaders, with BILOHF the sole regional company that publicly discloses information. The latter publishes its ethical charter on its website, in which it outlines its responsibilities to employees, communities and shareholders, including firm commitments to improve the living conditions, health and education of citizens, govern environmental sustainability and offer fair remuneration and secure working conditions to its employees.
Those companies lagging behind are encouraged to follow the example of the leading players, which publicly disclose comprehensive codes of business conduct, provide regular training to staff and monitor compliance across all internal operations and often across the entire supply chain. These codes also reference external standards such as those set by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Labour Organization. By being transparent, companies make their codes benchmarks in their own right, against which organizational performance can be measured and allowing for greater levels of stakeholder monitoring and assessment. While such comprehensive standards and training may be unattainable for some smaller regional companies with fewer resources, the example set by BILOHF is a minimum standard that companies currently lacking codes of business conduct should aim to achieve.
Value Seeds aims to make its seed available within walking distance for specifically targeted communities in Kaduna State and has set the ambitious target of servicing 10 million smallholder customers by 2035. Furthermore, the company aims to bridge the gap to smallholder farmers with innovative agricultural technologies, thereby increasing yields, enhancing nutrition and promoting farming as a viable livelihood choice.
Formally created in 2015, Novalliance is a group of seed companies, including Nankosem, Semagri and Tropicasem. In addition to their own varieties they also distribute Technisem’s seed. The CEO of Technisem, based in France, plays a crucial role both within the company itself and as the founder of Novalliance. The group leverages its collective breeding and marketing activities, displaying robust access to seeds strategies and reaching smallholder famers across the region with a diverse portfolio of vegetable seeds and varieties.