Food for All Talk 03 “Can seeds help smallholders diversify?”
On April 13, the third Food for All Talk (#FFATalks) under the WBG-Netherlands Partnership took place. Ethel Sennhauser, Director Agriculture Global Practice of the World Bank Group, welcomed guest speakers from Access to Seeds Index and East-West Seed to discuss the role of seed companies in helping smallholder farmers diversify into growing vegetables for income and better nutrition.
In this third edition of the Food for All Talk series, Ido Verhagen (Executive Director of the Access to Seeds Index) and Mary-Ann Sayoc (East-West Seed company) shared their experiences on what seed companies can do for smallholder vegetables farming.
East West Seed’s tailored business model focuses exclusively on smallholders, and extends far beyond seeds – they offer knowledge transfer on the farming system, thereby creating the basis for future sales. Ms. Sayoc noted that higher prices for high quality seeds is not really the issue for small-scale farmers as seeds are only 5% of the cost factor for the farmer. It’s the size of the package that matters. East-West Seed sells one dollar packages suitable for small plots. There are remaining challenges/opportunities, including the need for:
- Simple insurance schemes for failed harvests;
- Action/attention from retail and food companies to expand the market;
- Regional harmonization in national seed laws to help new and smaller players in the seed business enter into the market (reducing Africa’s patchwork of small, fragmented markets); and
- More skilled staff in plant breeding and agronomy for new investments in developing countries.
The Access to Seeds Index investigates what seed companies can do to make quality seeds available to small farmers. As an initiative they do not only look at staples, but also at vegetables, as the latter are key for nutrition and highly profitable. ATS develops score cards for each company, showing their strengths and their presence. East West Seed scores highest on the vegetable seeds ranking: their business model shows it is possible to develop a business beneficial to both the company and the smallholder farmer. The index illustrates that the seed industry is present in many countries dominated by smallholder farmers, except West Africa; while it also observes regional seed companies often don’t have their own breeding programmes but source from global companies or public research institutes such as the World Vegetable Centre.
Ethel concluded by noting that solutions for profit and nutritious smallholder production may not be so complicated.
Please check out the video link including PowerPoint slides of this third Food for All Talk.