This paper reports the findings of a study whose objectives were to compare and contrast the public and private sectors in Asia in terms of their (1) estimated level of investment in maize breeding research; (2) germplasm outputs; and (3) nature and extent of roles played in the maize seed industry. Since the 1960s, yield gains, rather than area expansion, have fuelled increases in maize production in Asia. Yield gains, in tum, have been due to the shift in maize cultivation from mostly open-pollinated varieties (OPV s) to mostly hybrids. This transition also shifted the locus of modern maize breeding research from government research organisations to private national and multinational seed companies. In countries where both the public and private sectors participated in maize research, private sector research investment far exceeded that of the public sector. With more aggressive marketing programmes, the private sector captured 89% of the Asian maize seed market in the late 1990s. National public seed research agencies (including universities and cooperatives) developed and produced more maize OPVs than hybrids, mass-produced and distributed seed cheaply, addressed location-specific production problems, and provided agricultural extension services. The private seed companies developed, produced, sold and promoted their own proprietary hybrids. The reluctance of the private sector, however, to address the needs of marginal maize farmers should encourage the public sector to continue playing an active role in maize research and development (R&D), seed production and modern maize technology dissemination, especially with adequate support from appropriate government policies. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.