Seed Systems Research


Our Seed Systems Research program seeks to create value and promote investment in delivery channels that have so far proved difficult to establish. These include seed systems for crops that lack ‘mainstream’ revenue models of the type used for hybrids or genetically modified varieties. The ability to earn money is crucial for local seed companies’ involvement in making new varieties available.

The crops without such revenue opportunities are typically popular pillars of smallholder agriculture. These include vegetatively propagated staples such as cassava, sweet potato, yams or banana, as well as open-pollinated species like beans and certain ‘orphan’ cereals. With no incentive for small companies to engage, smallholders lack access to certified, disease-free planting material of improved varieties. Their yields thus remain far below what they could achieve.

The Syngenta Foundation, therefore, looks for alternative opportunities for small seed companies to earn money. One way is to foster the transfer of promising new varieties from the local public sector to local companies, as we do in our Seeds2B program. This approach reduces the cost to companies of developing new varieties.

A second opportunity presents itself in settings where a lot of seed carries disease. This is typically the case in smallholder agriculture. Seed companies can earn money from offering disease-free seeds. They, or others in the value chain, can add even more value with seed coatings. Such outer layers offer farmers a number of advantages. They can contain compounds that protect the seed against soil-borne pests or diseases or ones that stimulate vigorous growth. Another option is to add an inert coating that increases seed size and uniformity, which enables mechanized sowing. Seed coatings can thus increase crop yields and reduce labor costs.

Suitable coatings for planting material form an important focus of our R&D work, for example on tef and cassava. Seeds2B tackles access and market issues. We believe that this combination of activities will greatly encourage companies to widen their seed offering to smallholders and help improve hitherto neglected crops.

Cassava initiative

The Syngenta Foundation and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) have developed a seed stake processing and treatment system that enables farmers to use significantly shorter planting pieces. Each piece is coated with a variety of protectants and stimulants. This treatment improves shelf-life, plant vigour and yield potential compared with traditional, larger planting pieces.


Soybean, like other legume crops, can offer a good rotation opportunity for Africa’s smallholder farmers. Growing conditions are favourable in many parts of the continent. Soybean copes well with a range of abiotic and biotic stresses and requires only limited inputs. It makes an excellent rotation crop for cereals, fixing atmospheric nitrogen to fertilize what are often worn-out soils.