India has emerged as a major seed hub in Asia as 18 companies out of 24 leading firms evaluated, have invested in breeding and production activities in the country, according to a latest study.
Both global and regional seed industry players have invested in a big way to boost crop yields of smallholder farmers in India, it said.
There are about 100 million smallholder farmers in the country. They provide up to 80 per cent of the food supply and helping them to grow more and more food is key to achieving food and nutrition security, it added.
"An evaluation of 24 leading seed companies in the region shows that 21 companies sell seeds in India and 18 have invested in breeding and production activities in the country," according to the Access to Seeds Index (ASI) published by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA).
In comparison, only 11 companies have invested in breeding activities in Thailand and eight in Indonesia, the two other major regional seed hubs.
WBA is global multi-stakeholder initiative that measures and incentivise business efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to the Index's first ever ranking, four Indian seed companies -- Advanta, Acsen HyVeg, Namdhari Seeds and Nuziveedu Seeds -- have made it to the top 10 seed companies in South and Southeast Asia on their efforts to support smallholder farmer productivity.
The list was topped by the Thailand-based East-West Seed.
"With many foreign seed companies investing in India and strong-performing companies from India itself, the country shows itself as a real powerhouse for the development and supply of quality seeds for smallholder farmers in the region," the Access to Seeds Index Executive Director Ido Verhagen said.
However, majority of smallholder farmers still remain inaccessible, Verhagen added.
With regard to intellectual property (IP), the Index showed that the global companies East-West Seed and Syngenta, outperformed their peers, with strong positions on IP, while considering the needs of smallholder farmers and being transparent about such positions.
"Monsanto scores highly for its transparency on IP, however its positions are unfavourable to the needs of smallholder farmers," it observed.
The domestic Namdhari Seeds and Nuziveedu Seeds scored high points due to breeding programs with a strong focus on the preferences and needs of smallholder farmers, as per the Index.
"Acsen HyVeg sets an example with the broad choice it provides in seed types and package sizes, while Advanta stands out with its training programs for farmers that cover more countries in the region than any other company," it added.
In addition, 83 per cent of the companies present in India provide some form of extension service.
One of many examples of capacity building in India, comes from Nuziveedu Seeds, which has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Uttar Pradesh government to carry out collaborative extension work on rice and maize production with 40,000 farmers in 25 districts, the statement said.
Namdhari Seeds' business arm, Namdhari Fresh, is a leading example of how a company can connect smallholder farmers to domestic and international export markets.
The company formalises these relationships with contracts for the farmers to grow and sell produce at a fixed price, thereby offering them access to output markets, it added.
The Index is one of the first benchmarks oriented toward measuring the SDGs. The initiative was launched last September during the UN General Assembly in New York.