Smallholder farmers should be supplied with enough suitable crop seeds for critical sowing periods and in a continuous and reliable supply. Many of the seed companies’ portfolios in the 2021 index are diverse for vegetables and field crops, but among the field crops, pulses high in protein are few or lacking, particularly in South and South-east Asia. In addition, companies, primarily regional companies, sell seeds of traditional local crops, which contributes to nutrition security since these crops provide dietary diversity. From the perspective of agrobiodiversity, a wider crop choice is necessary for sustainability and resilience. Access to diverse and improved varieties allows farmers to produce nutritionally rich food sources for both home consumption and the market.
Seed type: companies are responding to smallholder farmer needs with open-pollinated varieties and hybrid seeds for all crops.
Companies are responding to the needs of smallholder farmers by keeping open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) in their portfolios. However, an increase of hybrids for field and vegetable crops has been noted. Generally, commercial farming relies on hybrid varieties for many crops. They are economically more attractive for seed companies as they cannot be reliably re-sowed and need to be repurchased each growing season. In comparison, smallholder farmers rely mostly on open-pollinated varieties that can be re-sowed. Although hybrid seeds lead to higher yields than open-pollinated varieties, buying new seeds for every crop season increases the financial burden of smallholders – especially those who are already living in poverty. However, small number of seed companies do report involvement in programmes directly or through partnerships that help make seeds more affordable for smallholder farmers, such as by providing credit and insurance services. Companies can improve affordability by setting pricing strategies adapted to the local environment and partnering with other organisations to introduce financial services appropriate for smallholder farmers.
Regional companies are catching up with global companies and are offering more newer varieties to farmers
The age of the youngest variety for a crop in a portfolio indicates whether companies frequently release new crop varieties. Releasing new varieties is needed to help farmers cope with new developments such as new pests, diseases or changing weather conditions because of a changing climate.
Unlike the 2019 index, where a large part of the youngest varieties for crops of regional companies on the market was older than five years, the 2021 index shows that the youngest varieties are newer for most crops. Across the three regions, globally active companies that have provided data report 55% of the youngest varieties for crops on the market to be introduced less than two years ago, now equal, also 55% for the regional companies. At the other side of the spectrum, global companies report on average that the youngest variety for 24% of crops in their portfolios were introduced more than five years ago, as well as 26% of crops on average in the portfolios of regional companies.
Companies can increase the availability of new and diverse crop varieties that meet the needs and preferences of smallholder farmers and strengthen local research capacity through their plant breeding activities in each region or collaborative research and development efforts with research partners.