Ensuring that smallholder farmers have access to high-quality seeds depends on the concerted efforts by all seed sector stakeholders to facilitate an "enabling environment." Defining what enabling environment means for the South and South-East Asia seed industry was the focus of the Access to Seed Index's second virtual Community of Practice (CoP) peer learning roundtable on the 18th of August 2022. The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) facilitated the round table in collaboration with the Asia and Pacific Seed Alliance (APSA) and the International Seed Federation (ISF). The roundtable discussion involved 50 participants from private seed companies and seed trade associations.
The 2021 Access to Seeds Index for South and South-East Asia evaluated thirty-one seed companies. A key finding showed that companies concentrate their investments in six regional countries. India, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bangladesh attract the most investments in developing the local seed sector such as breeding programs, seed production, and processing. Seed companies contribute to building a supportive environment for smallholder farmers. Understanding the industry perspective and recommendations based on leading practices that contribute to developing the local seed sector in more countries in the region is essential.
The roundtable discussion featured perspectives from leading index companies and seed associations such as Acsen HyVeg, Advanta, Bayer, East-West Seed, Syngenta, the Asian Pacific Seed Alliance (APSA), Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) and Thai Seed Trade Association (THASTA).
From the opening remarks, Dr. Kanokwan Chodchoey (Executive Director of APSA) highlighted the main factors of an enabling environment from the perspective of a Regional Seed Association (RSA). APSA, which is the largest RSA in terms of countries and territories, advocates for the production and trade of quality seeds on behalf of its members, who represent private seed enterprises that are all along the entire seed-value chain – from research, development and production, to processing, testing, storage and trade of quality seeds to and from the Asia-Pacific region. Pinpointing hunger as a key challenge for the most populous region in the world, Dr. Kanokwan highlighted Asia-Pacific's strategic potential as the "heart of global food supply chain." To achieve its goals, APSA advocates for science-based policies, innovative technology, the Systems Approach, cooperation and trust, Dr. Kanokwan noted.
The APSA goals align with WBA's Access to Seeds Index goals to support the implementation of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG)– specifically SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and its target 2.3 to increase "agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers." Alice Ingabire (Access to Index Lead, WBA) highlighted the crucial role of the seed industry in developing smallholder farmers through a reliable supply of quality seeds of improved varieties. Sharing insights from the latest iteration, Alice emphasized the need for seed companies to increase transparency and strengthen accountability in their efforts to reach smallholder farmers for increased productivity and incomes in the most food-insecure countries in the region.
The discussion facilitator, Ben Rivoire (Sustainability and Crop Value chain Manager, ISF), reiterated ISF's commitment to encourage the creation of the best environment to facilitate the movement of seeds internationally and that all types of farmers in all countries have access to innovation, and new, high-performing varieties of seed. Echoing some of the previously mentioned enabling factors, Mr. Rivoire reiterated the importance of identifying and sharing best practices to encourage investment and farmer outreach amongst all types of companies – small, medium and multinationals.
Dr. Arvind Kapur (Managing Director, Acsen HyVeg) said that one of the main focuses of the private seed sector should be to ensure sustainable seed production, which has been particularly challenging due to climate change, the pandemic and geopolitical factors, which have increased the cost of seed and related inputs. To address these challenges, Acsen HyVeg focuses on agronomic practices that optimize the use of fertilizers and crop protection inputs, in addition to increasing breeding and R&D geared toward the improvement of local crop varieties, which together are helping to maximize output and thus increase farmer revenues.
Ananda UVL (Head of Communications and Public Affairs, East-West Seeds) insisted that supplying reliable quality seeds to smallholder farmers has had more impact than any other intervention. The key to the company’s success in enabling subsistence farmers to become profitable entrepreneurs was a smallholder farmer-centric market-based approach. The company prioritizes skills and knowledge transfer, local speciality food crops, and improving working conditions to be more inclusive and uplifting, especially concerning women empowerment.
Arnab Das (Head - Smallholder Farming APAC, Bayer) said that focusing on productivity and yields alone has not always translated to increased incomes for smallholder farmers, which number around 550 million worldwide. Considering the immense responsibility to feed the world, Arnab shared that Bayer has adopted a broad-spectrum approach. Bayer is expanding its focus from seed supply to include enabling domains of smallholder empowerment, including entrepreneurship development, driving innovation and pursuing partnerships with various stakeholders to develop better seeds. The company also engages in capacity-building initiatives with many partners, including through its “Better Life Farming,” a private alliance founded by Bayer alongside the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Netafim.
Advanta, represented by Prashant Belgamwar, the Regional Lead for Asia & Africa and International Vegetable Market, has a broad crop market base spanning vegetable, field, and forage segments. Advanta focuses on farmer needs by addressing how to “produce more from less,” including disease-resistant and climate-resilient crop varieties, and offering low-input, high-output alternatives to conventional resource-intensive crops. Beyond quality seeds, Advanta is also prioritizing the facilitation of farmer access to technologies (through its Advanta Technology Center) as well as services and mechanized farming solutions that can improve farmers’ return on investment. Also, Advanta provides seed production opportunities and training for those who have left school and seeking income-earning opportunities.
Bruno Lefeuvre (Head of Vegetable Seeds in the Asia Pacific, Syngenta) said that smallholder farmers in the region face immediate-term food insecurity. Access to digital farming solutions can improve farmers' shift from input providers to service providers. Emphasizing Syngenta's leading position as a specialist in end-to-end solutions, he said it is necessary to have a grounded understanding of farmers' needs across the entire seed- and crop-value chain. Another crucial factor realized during the pandemic-invoked national lockdowns is maintaining the freedom to access and operate in different markets and upholding and protecting IP rights to encourage companies to compete and constantly innovate for the farmers to get high-income crops.
One persisting trend of the Access to Seeds Index findings for South and South-East Asia is the concentration of seed business activities in a handful of countries in the region. Providing insights into the factors attracting more investment in these “seed hubs” were presentations from national seed associations of Thailand and India.
Dr. Sumitra Kantrong, (Executive committee member of the Thai Seed Trade Association (THASTA)), revealed the organization’s goal to have at least 80% of its member in all 160 registered seed companies in the kingdom, in addition to 40 agricultural supply shops (currently about 70%). As a representative voice of the Thai private sector, THASTA engages its members, keeping them apprised of timely news, information and updates to legislation and phytosanitary affairs, as well as training and certifying them in national and international industry standards concerning R&D, production, processing and retail.
These activities at THASTA also support enabling strategies and policies of the Royal Thai Government, including the government’s policy to position Thailand as an ASEAN seed hub and the development of a “One Stop Service” for seed business activities, extending to capacity-building activities for various enabling protocols such as the exchange of electronic phytosanitary (ePhyto) certificates and accreditation of third-party seed health testing laboratories, for example. These efforts complement collaboration and partnerships with domestic, regional and international stakeholders, e.g., UPOV, ISTA).
Dr. Shivendra Bajaj (Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) said that one of the primary jobs of a national seed association is to advocate on behalf of its members, serving as a bridge between the industry and the government keeping farmer as its customer in mind. The responsibilities include working with the government on policies, regulations and laws, participating in consultations and providing industry feedback.
Dr. Shivendra noted that FSII is currently advocating for the government to recognize and implement International Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (ISPMS). The goal is to acknowledge accredited private laboratories for seed health testing per ISPM 45 (on the authorization of third-party entities) and ISPM 38 (on the international seed movement).
Likewise, FSII supports the government in its goal to establish India as a regional and global seed production hub by increasing its share of global seed supply to 10%, up from 1% currently. Another area of focus is bringing financial resources for R&D on certain crops like oilseeds and pulses; those these crops do not usually have high commercial interest; however, they are essential to farmers, he noted.
Participants of the roundtable discussion and other representatives from seed companies in the region shared recommendations on areas of priority for public-private partnerships that ensure access to high-quality seeds for smallholder farmers in a sustainable way. The request is to develop these suggestions into clear action plans by APSA in collaboration with WBA and relevant stakeholders. These recommendations include.
The discussion on Access to Seeds, APSA and ISF collaboration on the roundtable continue from 13.05 – 13.25 hrs. GMT+7/ICT on November 15 in the International Trade and Quarantine technical session during the Asian Seed Congress 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand. The session will also be broadcast on APSA Channels. The audience will hear the summary of the round table session under the topic of "Enabling environment for seed sector development and way forward" from Alice Ingabire.