193 Member States of the United Nations have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015 which are the priorities for the world up to 2030. There are 17 SDGs in total with each goal having their own specific targets. Improving the productivity of smallholder farmers is one of the main targets on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals agenda (SDGs). “Smallholder farmers need to not only produce more food, but at the same time adapt their agricultural practices to changing weather conditions caused by climate change. By improving access to quality seeds, seed companies can make a vital contribution in supporting smallholder farmers with overcoming this challenge,” says Ido Verhagen, Executive director of the Access to Seeds Index.
The Access to Seeds Index, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the government of the Netherlands, aims to encourage seed companies to step up their efforts to support smallholder farmer productivity. “By benchmarking seed companies, the index gives credit to companies that show leadership and encourages others to follow their example,” says Mr. Verhagen. “It also provides valuable information for governments, research institutes and donors interested in building partnerships with seed companies.” The Index is not the first index to examine the ways in which an industry can help to solve a global challenge. It is, however, the first to assess regional companies alongside their global peers.
The Index has identified four regions with (1) a food security challenge, (2) smallholder farmer presence and (3) agricultural potential: Latin America, Western and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, and South and Southeast Asia and provides for the first time a comprehensive picture of what the industry is doing in those regions.
The Index seeks to explore the possible contribution of seed companies to the six dimensions (availability, affordability, suitability, capability, profitability and autonomy) of access to seeds identified by farmers and other stakeholders. It assesses the companies’ strategies, whether they handle their genetic resources and intellectual property in ways that does not limit access to seeds. Also it looks at activities in breeding, production, marketing and adoption and how they are tailored to smallholder farmers. The performance of companies is compared with each other rather than against an absolute, ideal state. As such, companies set and raise the bar.
In 2016, the first index was published which assessed the activities of global seed companies in the four regions and those of regional seed companies in Eastern Africa. It became evident that regional companies go a step further in addressing the needs of smallholder farmers than their global peers. Regional companies are active in domains generally neglected by global companies, notably breeding for local crops and marketing varieties from public research institutes. Also, these companies demonstrated practices that go beyond their global peers in adoption strategies and inclusion of smallholder farmers in the seed value chain. The publication resulted in coverage in over 170 media outlets, new initiatives by policymakers and discussions around the globe at events hosted by organizations including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Bank and African Union.
The 2019 Index is scheduled for publication between November 2018 and April 2019. This index will more than double the number of companies assessed – from 25 to more than 60 – as regional seed companies in South and Southeast Asia and Western and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa are now also part of the scope. In addition to evaluating 13 global seed companies for their business in all four regions, the Access to Seeds Index for South and Southeast Asia will evaluate 24 seed companies while the Access to Seeds Index for Eastern and Southern Africa and the Access to Seeds Index for Western & Central Africa will evaluate the efforts of 22 leading seed companies each in respective regions. The selection of the companies was based on company business models, track record and regional presence.
To conclude, the index provides a unique insight into the seed industry’s current efforts. Company scorecards enumerate the efforts at the individual company level while the rankings provide insight into leadership at both the global and regional level, including the differences and similarities in the roles global and regional companies play in reaching smallholder farmers. “Since its publication, the 2016 Index has been widely discussed with farmer organizations, seed companies and policymakers in all four index regions. Although it seems obvious that achieving food security requires ongoing cooperation and coordination between these parties, it has become clear that these are often lacking. We hope that the evidence base provided by the index will help to fill this gap” says Mr. Verhagen.
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