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Small Farmers in Asia Miss Out On Climate Change Resilient Seeds

East-West Seed has built a successful business focusing purely on smallholders

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Women farmers use sticks to make holes in the soil for seeds, on a farm near Pangalengan, West Java, Indonesia. VOA
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Millions of smallholder farmers in South and Southeast Asia are missing out on new, resilient seeds that could improve their yields in the face of climate change, according to an index published Monday.

The 24 top seed companies fail to reach four-fifths of the region’s 170 million smallholder farmers for reasons such as poor infrastructure, high prices and lack of training, the Access to Seeds Index found.

Access to seeds bred to better withstand changing weather conditions such as higher temperatures is vital as farmers battle loss of productivity due to climate change, said Ido Verhagen, head of the Access to Seeds Foundation, which published the index.

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A farmer burns rice straw at his field in Qalyub, causing a “black cloud” of smoke that spreads across the Nile valley, near the agricultural road which leads to the capital city of Cairo, Egypt. VOA

“We see increasing demands for new varieties, because [farmers] are affected by climate change,” Verhagen told Reuters.

“If we want to feed a growing population, if we want to tackle climate change, if we want to go towards a more sustainable food system, we have to start with seeds,” he said.

Smallholder farmers managing between one to 10 hectares of land provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia, said the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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FILE – Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

But traditional methods of preserving seeds from harvests are not always sufficient to cope with a changing climate.

About 340 million people were hungry in 2017 in South and Southeast Asia, a number that has barely changed since 2015, according to latest figures from the United Nations.

“The question is how to get markets to provide the varieties [of seeds] that farmers want, at prices that they’re able to pay,” said Shawn McGuire, agricultural officer at the FAO.

Some smaller companies are leading the way in helping smallholders access more resilient seeds, Verhagen said, such as Thailand-based East-West Seed which topped the index ahead of global giants Bayer and Syngenta, which ranked second and third.

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Indian Farmers causing smog in Pakistan. wikimedia commons

East-West Seed has built a successful business focusing purely on smallholders, he said, while Indian companies Acsen HyVeg and Namdhari, ranked sixth and seventh respectively, have also reached small-scale farmers with seeds.

Also Read: Climate Change’s Fight Harder Than Thought: Study

The index, funded by the Dutch government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ranks companies based on seven areas including strategies to help small farmers and supporting conservation. (VOA)

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Madhya Pradesh Waives off $5.3Bn in Farm Debt

The western state of Maharashtra and northern state of Uttar Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP, announced similar loan waivers last year.

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India, farmers, farm
Farmers march towards the parliament house during a rally to protest soaring farm operating costs and plunging prices of their produce, in New Delhi, India. VOA

The new leader of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is to waive up to $5.3 billion of farm loans, becoming the latest area to offer relief ahead of a national election next year as farmers reel from losses caused by falling crop prices.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party lost the central state to Congress last week dealing Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014 and boosting the opposition ahead of the vote next year.

Congress leader Kamal Nath, who became chief minister of the state on Monday, decided to write off farmers’ loans up to 200,000 rupees, according to a notification.

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Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

Protests on the rise

Farmers’ protests have been rising in past months due to the fall in crop prices and a rise in the cost of diesel and fertilizer.

Nearly 3.4 million farmers will benefit from the loan waiver, which is likely to cost between 350 billion rupees ($4.9 billion) to 380 billion rupees ($5.3 billion), Rajesh Rajora, the state’s principal secretary for agriculture, told Reuters.

Also Read: Arvind Kejriwal Accuses Modi Government of Betraying Farmers

The western state of Maharashtra and northern state of Uttar Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP, announced similar loan waivers last year. (VOA)