As the next generation of farmers, smallholder farmers, including women farmers and need support beyond their purchase of seeds to adopt improved agricultural technologies to realise the potential of high-yielding crop varieties through extension services as part of capacity building. Companies are responsible for the results and impact of their seed, especially when introducing new varieties to new markets. Yet only 39 of the 67 companies report offering extension services in 51 of the 55 index countries across the three regions. In 2019, 40 companies reported extension services in 47 of the 54 countries included in the 2019 index, across three regions. Importantly, while extension services to smallholder farmers have notably increased in recent years – especially in Western Central Africa – all four countries still lacking extension services are based in Western Central Africa (Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and the Central African Republic).
The extension services provided by companies include technical guidance and training on crop agronomy, crop care, and harvesting methods to improve crop yield. Some companies report providing education on the safe use of pesticides, compliance with international trade rules, and access to local partnerships and outreach efforts. These extension services are provided through meetings with smallholders, field demonstrations, field days, and visual materials such as posters, leaflets, banners, digital tools and audio-visual content.
The next generation of smallholder farmers and women play a crucial role in producing food today and in the future; hence they need tailored support programs. Compared to the 2019 index, there was an increase in programmes offered to next-generation farmers, with 16 companies providing these services. Nevertheless, programs explicitly targeted towards women are still lacking for many companies, with only 12 of the 67 companies providing these across all regions.
Overall, companies report minimal disruptions to offering extension services to farmers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A key finding was the increase of ICT-based solutions to provide extensions services across regions – especially in Africa – as a consequence of worldwide travel and physical trade restrictions due to the COVId-19 pandemic. The seeds companies themselves, or in partnership with local organisations, have to ensure that every farmer has not only access to quality seeds, but also the right knowledge and tools to realise the full potential of high-yielding crop varieties on their small farms – without depleting natural resources or harming the environment.