seed innovation

Young Evaluator Assesses Seed Innovation in Rural India

Robert Nylander had never visited India. He had never sat at an Indian farmer’s table or slept at the farmer’s home. He had never experienced monsoons or navigated over flooded roads.

He has now – all of it that and more. He’s glad he did.

Nylander, from Stockholm, Sweden, found his experience was just part of the job of a field evaluator for the Saving Water for Food (SWFF), a global development program aimed at meeting a looming crisis.

That crisis is that:

The world doesn’t have sufficient water to grow food to feed a population that is expected to expand to nine billion people by 2050. By that time, it is predicted year-around, useable water will satisfy only two-thirds of the planet. Nylander was part of a team of evaluators with research experience dispatched to the corners of the globe to determine from end-users – the farmers – the effectiveness of the innovative SWFF program.

Seeds are the foundation of all agriculture, and Nylander feels such innovations as AST’s work represents an important step if the world is to meet its future food needs.

His particular assignment was to assess the results of Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (AST) in treating seeds to perform better where salinity prevails and where there is too much or too little water. He conducted 50 interviews with farmers. For Nylander, it was both a learning experience and a stepping stone. A 2017 University of Gothenburg graduate with two internships behind him in water resources and agriculture, he wanted to pursue his career in development and project management.

“One of the most important aspects of the management cycle is having the chance to absorb lessons and learn for future projects,” said Nylander.

He seized the opportunity. Because the territory he covered in India was so rural, it would have been a monumental waste of time to travel back and forth to hotels. Instead, he chose to live in a 1o0-year-old farmhouse in a village. A major obstacle in completing the evaluation was simply locating the farmers he was charged with interviewing. The patchwork of muddy roads were at times impassable due to a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

He traveled with a driver, a translator who knew the local dialects – which include many variations of language – as well as a coordinator who knew the landscape. They slept and ate in the same room of the farmhouse. The good news for AST, based in Seattle, Washington, is its project passed muster with flying colors. The company commercially sells its product elsewhere, but in India, it was a development opportunity to test its use and exportability.

“Nearly all the farmers interviewed viewed the experience as either positive or very positive,” said Nylander. “They saw an increase in yield as well as savings over buying seeds at market rates.” Nylander said most of the farmers interviewed indicated they would recommend or strongly recommend AST’s innovation to other farmers. 

AST is also experimenting by having women in the Rajasthan district of Nagaur, distribute the treated seeds, going from farm to farm, in a similar style of an Amway salesperson. While not under Nylander’s assignment, he believes this is an excellent way to make the program both scalable in India and exportable elsewhere. 

In essence, AST’s mission is to increase the crop plants’ tolerance to drought and salinity stress. The products, currently in a liquid form called BioEnsure, are developed for a wide variety of cereals, vegetables, and industrial crops. The company says the product is non-toxic and safe to handle. Since BioEnsure is not genetically modified, it is registered as organic by the Organic Materials Review Institute. 

Seeds are the foundation of all agriculture, and Nylander feels such innovations as AST’s work represents an important step if the world is to meet its future food needs.



USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.