Index companies recognize the importance of marketing strategies to promote the adoption of improved varieties and attract new smallholder farmer customers. However, companies headquartered in Western and Central Africa itself predominantly focus on their national markets, underlining that much remains to be done in terms of regional integration.
Ten of the 23 index companies (44%) are only active in their home market (AINOMA, Agriplus Mali, Heritage Seeds, Maslaha Seeds, Nankosem, Premier Seed, SEDAB, Semagri, Tropicasem and Value Seeds), showing that the seed sector in Western and Central Africa is more national than regional in nature. Heritage Seeds from Ghana indicates that there is sufficient demand in its home market relative to its production capacity. This could explain why comparatively small companies have little incentive to seek markets beyond national borders.
Companies with a relatively wide distribution network include Corteva Agriscience (seven countries), Faso Kaba (eight) and NAFASO (more than 11). Vegetable seed companies East-West Seed (16) and Pop Vriend Seeds (14) have a broad presence too, but Technisem stands out for reaching 18 (or 80%) of index countries. It is notable that companies headquartered outside the region report having the widest distribution networks, with the exception of NAFASO and Faso Kaba.
Clearly, several countries are underserved by index companies. For instance, in Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea and the Central African Republic, only a single company sells seed, and only two do so in Chad.
Most companies acknowledge the importance of reaching remote areas for ensuring access to seeds, with over 82% of companies reporting to do so. Typically, distribution channels use large agro-dealers and smaller local distributors. For example, Nigeria-based Maslaha Seeds relies on 200 seed shops and 600 registered local seed dealers. SOPROSA, from Mali, delivers seed directly but uses local dealers to reach remoter areas. Also in Nigeria, Premier Seed has 1,000 registered distributors, demonstrating that it follows a fine mesh approach. Da-Allgreen Seeds and Technisem state that security concerns hinder their ability to reach remote areas in Nigeria, whereas Nankosem reports that it still supplies risk-prone areas in northern Burkina Faso.
Regional companies play a crucial role in the supply of field crop varieties that are particularly relevant for food security in the region. For instance, groundnut and cowpea, which are both offered by ten regional companies, are important field crops in Western Africa. However, they are generally absent in the portfolio of global seed companies.
Companies have diverging strategies when it comes to seed types. Pop Vriend Seeds’ portfolio, for instance, contains open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) for all its crops and hybrids for 61% of them. Technisem and its Novalliance partner companies Nankosem, Semagri and Tropicasem take a similar approach, enabling farmers to choose between seed types. Regional companies generally offer more OPVs than hybrids, as marketing hybrids requires additional farmer training and input supply, as reported by AINOMA.
Over 85% of index companies report providing demonstration and promotion activities in the region, indicating that seed companies, big and small, typically use marketing events to reach farmers. For instance, Maslaha Seeds has reportedly established more than 400 demonstration fields in 200 villages in Nigeria, reaching about 250,000 farmers, to demonstrate improved seed and best practices. In Niger, AINOMA reports activities to promote new varieties to smallholders, while emphasizing the need to showcase hybrid varieties’ benefits.
However, only 17% of index companies, including Value Seeds, Faso Kaba and SOPROSA, report marketing activities targeting women smallholder farmers. Value Seeds demonstrates the most thorough approach, distributing a ‘maize value kit’ to around 2,400 women smallholder farmers in Nigeria’s Kaduna State through various partnerships with the regional government and local NGOs. Faso Kaba ensures that around 40% of participants in its demonstration events are women.
Over 80% of index companies actively promote or supply agricultural inputs other than seed. The strategy of Technisem and its Novalliance partners is notable in this regard, promoting the sustainable use of inputs through its subsidiary Jardinova, while emphasizing that disease-resistant varieties are better suited to withstand pests in an ecological way. AINOMA encourages the use of organic compost in addition to supplying fertilizers and pesticides.
Virtually all companies articulate a commitment to quality. However, this commitment translates into fairly different practices and mechanisms, with smaller, regionally headquartered and independent companies mostly relying on government agencies and controls for seed quality certification. For instance, BILOHF relies on the Côte d’Ivoire’s seed certification agency LANASEM, while Maslaha Seeds reports abiding by the standards set by Nigeria’s National Agricultural Seeds Council. Other companies such as Heritage Seeds, NAFASO, Premier Seed and SEDAB all confirm that their seed is certified by national authorities. Public entities thus play an important role in ensuring that private seed companies deliver certified seed.
Larger companies and organizations usually have their own laboratory and quality control mechanisms, and more easily adhere to standards set by the International Seed Testing Association. East-West Seed, Seed Co, Syngenta, the Novalliance companies Nankosem, Semagri, Technisem and Tropicasem as well as Niger-based AINOMA all have their own laboratory facilities and procedures for quality monitoring.
Although headquartered in France, Technisem mostly operates in Western and Central Africa. It sells seed in 18 countries, more than any other index company. Its unique partnership with local seed companies contributes to its far-reaching distribution network. Together with its Novalliance partner companies Nankosem, Semagri and Tropicasem, Technisem aims to develop a network of 200 shops across the region by 2025.
Value Seeds demonstrates leadership through its marketing campaigns that specifically target women and young smallholder farmers, who are generally overlooked by seed companies in the region. The company partnered with the government in 2017 to distribute its maize value kit to around 2,400 women smallholder farmers in Nigeria’s Kaduna State.
In addition, the company is collaborating with the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn and the Business Innovation Facility, both backed by the UK’s Department for International Development, to supply a further 5,000 women and next-generation smallholder farmers with its value kit. Besides seed, the kit includes the other inputs needed for successful crop production. The objectives of the value kit are to improve the yields, incomes and living standards of smallholder farmers in Nigeria.