By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Farmers rely on seeds to a great extent and exert all their efforts to ensure a bountiful harvest, so it is important for seed distributors to provide their market with high-quality seeds that tailor to their specific conditions.

Leading in encouraging these companies is an independent, non-profit foundation based in the Netherlands called Access to Seeds.

The foundation’s Executive Director, Ido Verhagen, believes that seeds are the key technology for agriculture because that’s where it starts. This is why Access to Seeds urges the seed industry to improve access to quality seeds for smallholder farmers. 

Ido Verhagen is the executive director of the Access to Seeds Foundation. Photo from the website of Access to Seeds Foundation.

It does so by publishing an Access to Seeds Index every three years.

Access to Seeds Index is a unique resource that highlights how seed companies are supporting the productivity of smallholder farmers in different parts of the world like South and Southeast Asia, sub Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Companies in the seed industry disclose information in their annual reports and websites; these numbers then become the basis of the Index’s research. In addition, companies also fill out a questionnaire which is cross-checked and verified by experts afterwards.

“The insights help identifying areas for improvement, create a better understanding of the role companies can play and help create public-private partnerships needed to reach smallholder farmers,” said Verhagen.

How It Began

Access to Seeds Index stemmed from the Sustainable Development Goals agenda of the United Nations. It has 17 goals which the countries of the UN aim to achieve by 2030; one of them is zero hunger.

“When governments agreed to this agenda, they realized that they could only achieve these goals in partnership with a private sector,” Verhagen said.

In addition, a recent report from the UN said that the battle against malnutrition in Asia has become stagnant.

The main reason for this is climate change which heavily affects the agricultural practices of small farmers in the region. 

According to Verhagen, smallholder farmers are the main producers of food in South and Southeast Asia. The UN cites 170 million smallholders active in the region which produce 80% of the food consumed. Helping these farmers improve their production in a sustainable way is the key to achieving food security and fighting malnutrition. 

To help these farmers cope with climate change, they need access to new and improved crop varieties that are resistant to heat, drought, and even excessive rains.

“This is where the seed industry can play a key role: to develop these kinds of varieties and to ensure that they are delivered in the hands of farmers at an affordable price,” Verhagen said.

For the first time, the Access to Seeds Index studied the seed industry in South and Southeast Asia. It discovered that the seed industry is exerting a lot of effort for small farmers by investing heavily in research on climate resilient varieties.

Verhagen added that farmers need training to adapt to climate change as well to new technologies like irrigation and machinery to be more productive. They also need access to finance and markets to build a profitable business.

Access to Seeds Index 2019

This year, the index in the South and Southeast Asia was topped by Thailand-based East-West Seed. 

“It has a very broad approach to smallholder farmer productivity. Its breeding programs are focused on the needs of smallholders, it sell seeds in small packages for affordable prices and if provides training to help farmers adopt new technologies,” Verhagen said.

Aside from lauding the companies and the steps it took for leading as well as setting an example to the rest of the industry, the Index also aims to encourage the other companies to step up.

The Index consists of 24 leading seed companies in South and Southeast Asia, including 5 global seed companies from outside Asia, and 19 seed companies from Asia itself.