A new study found that DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta and other leading agribusiness companies need to do a better job providing smallholder farmers with seeds.
The Access to Seeds Index – funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a branch of the Dutch government – scored seed companies based on their efforts to improve access to quality seeds to farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and other regions considered food insecure.
About 800 million people are undernourished globally, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
The index highlighted DuPont Pioneer as the best of seven major companies in terms of supplying smallholder farmers with access to seeds for field crops such as corn, wheat and rice. According to the index, DuPont “clearly outperforms its peers” because of its emphasis on strong breeding programs throughout the analyzed regions.
Syngenta AG – recently bought out by China National Chemical Corporation for $43 billion – finished a close second.
The index ranked Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences in the middle of the pack.
The index praised Monsanto for providing intellectual property under a royalty-free licensing agreement to the African Agriculture Technology Foundation. It also gave the seed giant points for its mobile software platform in India that advises farmers on weather and planting.
Definition: “Smallholder farmers” are farmers growing food on plots of land around two hectares, the equivalent of two or three football fields.
Definition: The United Nations defines “food insecure” as a lack of “sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”
“More than half of the global seed companies are committed to sustainable intensification and improved access to seeds for smallholder farmers in Index countries. However, the majority of these commitments lack tangible targets, limiting accountability.“ – Access to Seeds Index
The index suggested that Monsanto could specifically improve its efforts by allowing the use of farm-saved seeds for non-commercial purposes where necessary.
The idea of saving seeds has been somewhat controversial for Monsanto in the past, at least in the United States. Monsanto on its website notes that it has filed nearly 150 U.S. lawsuits against individuals or businesses that saved seeds since 1997.
Michigan State University research shows that Monsanto is the world’s biggest seed company. It holds ownership in several satellite seed companies including Asgrow, DeRuiter and DeKalb.
Some estimates calculate that global seed market is valued at about $45 billion annually.
Overall, the index reported that the companies often lacked clear goals to provide seeds to smallholder farmers. It also found that there was a clear seed-access gap in western Africa, where nearly half of the region’s countries were not serviced at all.
Syngenta had the most definitive target of the companies, according to the index. Syngenta plans on reaching 20 million smallholder farmers within the next five years.
Less than 3 percent of the seeds used by smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa come from seed companies.
A majority of farmers instead depend on saving seeds from previous harvests, a process that some experts believe – while less expensive – can be more unreliable than purchasing new seeds each year. When farmers buy seeds from a company, they have a good idea of what to expect in terms of yield and hardiness because those seeds are produced in a controlled environment. But when farmers plant saved seeds, those seeds may contain new and unintended traits.
Results of the Access to Seeds Index partially come from stakeholder and expert interviews, along with company response to a questionnaire.
The index will be published every two years.