Company investments in breeding activities are low in Western and Central Africa. Variety testing, seed multiplication and collaboration with national and international research institutes and other companies are the primary means by which most companies contribute to bringing to market improved varieties that are suitable to the needs of smallholder farmers. Although global companies have an increasing presence in the region, progress in developing varieties suitable for the region is slow.
This measurement area evaluates whether company breeding efforts benefit smallholder farmers. Through breeding, new high-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.
Eleven index companies have breeding stations in the region, which are typically modest in size. Syngenta has breeding stations in Mali, Nigeria and Senegal. East-West Seed has one breeder operating in Benin who focuses on developing local vegetables. Premier Seed has a breeding station in Nigeria, where it develops maize and sorghum varieties. SOPROSA has a breeding station in Mali, where it is developing a cowpea variety and intends to develop hybrid maize and sorghum varieties in the future. Seed Co operates a breeding station in Ghana. Maslaha Seeds and Value Seeds have embarked on company breeding programs in Nigeria.
With breeding stations for vegetables and local crops in Senegal, Cameroon and Burkina Faso, Technisem is the only company that reports having breeding programs in more than one index country. Technisem is part of the Novalliance, which includes Tropicasem, Semagri and Nankosem. Each Novalliance company has a breeding location in the country where it is headquartered, namely Senegal, Cameroon and Burkina Faso respectively. Although not specifically reported as such, it is likely that Technisem’s breeding programs in these countries are joint programs with other Novalliance companies.
Few companies breed for improved vegetable varieties in the region; breeding for nutrition is an area for improvement. Companies prioritize yield and shelf life in the varieties they develop. Adaptation to different ecological zones is important as well.
Variety trials are an important component of plant breeding. Companies test varieties to determine where existing and new varieties can potentially be utilized. Because breeding activities are limited throughout the region, many companies without breeding programs limit themselves to testing varieties, often from (international) research institutes or other companies, in Western and Central Africa.
As such, 78% of index companies have testing activities in the region. Value Seeds receives maize inbred lines from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Nigeria-based Premier Seed and Da-Allgreen Seeds also work with IITA in this area.
SEDAB conducts variety trials in Senegal at the request of agronomic research institutes in collaboration with smallholder farmers. Faso Kaba in Mali conducts variety trials annually with material from national and international research centers, including IITA, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
Seed Co has conducted hybrid rice trials in the region. The company has testing locations in the Republic of the Congo, Ghana and Nigeria. Agriplus Mali tests varieties from Sakata, a Japanese vegetable seed company that is included in the Global and the South and Southeast Asia Access to Seeds Index 2019. Technisem and the other Novalliance companies Tropicasem, Nankosem and Semagri conduct trials to validate the adaptability of varieties to the different agro-ecological conditions in the countries where they are active.
Companies work with research institutes to develop traits useful for smallholder farmers in index countries. These traits include improved performance and yield, low external inputs and tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress. Through these collaborations, seed companies can access regionally significant germplasm and rapidly increase adoption. Many companies depend wholly or partly on research institutes or other seed companies for varieties to sell in the region, such as GAWAL, Faso Kaba and BILOHF. Other companies are developing their own breeding programs. While Value Seeds relies on national and international research institutes for most of its varieties, it is in the process of setting up its own breeding program for maize.
In terms of collaborative research, 26% of index companies provide evidence of such programs. Corteva Agriscience partners with the NGO Africa Harvest and the Nigerian Institute for Agricultural Research to develop micronutrient-rich (iron, zinc, vitamin A) sorghum. Global peer Monsanto donated technology to the African Agriculture Technology Foundation to develop cowpea varieties resistant to pests such as Maruca pod borer. In 2017, the foundation expanded field trials into Burkina Faso, Ghana and Nigeria. Faso Kaba collaborates with research partners to conduct adaptability and taste tests, among others. Value Seeds collaborates with national and international research partners on breeding efforts and trains plant breeders in Nigeria. The Novalliance companies collaborate extensively with each other but do not report on collaborations with others.
Technisem conducts variety trials in 76% of the countries where it is active, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal and Togo. These trials test the varieties from its own and other companies’ portfolios.
Most of Technisem’s varieties are younger than three years old, particularly vegetables, demonstrating a commitment to bringing newly developed products to market. Further, Technisem, probably together with its Novalliance partners, has breeding stations in Senegal, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso, which is more than any other index company.