The Access to Seeds Index for 2019 was launched at the Hyatt Regency in Rosebank in an effort to shine a light on companies taking the lead in reaching smallholder farmers in eastern and southern Africa.
Senior researcher at Access to Seeds Index Sanne Helderman explained that seed companies are a crucial partner in efforts to raise productivity and achieve food and nutrition security. According to Helderman, the number of undernourished people in the world reached an estimated 821 million in 2017 with the number in Southern Africa on the rise. She said that this is linked to the issue of climate change.
The index seeks to highlight different aspects of the seed industry, focusing on 22 leading seed companies in the region. The objectives of this index are to improve transparency in the industry, provide an evidence base for dialogue within the industry, encourage seed companies to step up efforts and create more public-private partnerships.
Two African seed companies topped the 2019 index. Kenyan company East African Seed placed first while Seed Co placed second. Both companies have grown in their activities since the first index was conducted in 2016. East African Seed was commended for its broad portfolio including local crops and large network of extension staff across multiple countries. Seed Co, which originated in Zimbabwe and now has its headquarters in South Africa, is the company with the most extensive breeding, production and sales network.
While maize is considered to be the main crop and the staple food for many African families, Helderman said it does raise concerns about the expansion of more nutritious crops including vegetables.
“Climatic conditions are rapidly changing and breeding programmes need to adapt to be more sustainable in droughts,” said Helderman.
Some of the strengths of the seed industry include the strength of regional companies, sales in all countries, package sizes tailored to smallholder farmers and the broad portfolio of crops. Challenges in this context include the fact that few companies have programmes for women farmers, there are few investments in attracting the next generation of farmers, the vast majority of smallholder farmers are yet to be reached, breeding is limited in its scope and crops and the reach of company extension services is limited.