How to promote 'good growth' in a changing world

The Good Growth Plan extends far beyond the agronomic inputs for high yielding production. Together with partners, Syngenta provides extensive training opportunities, demonstration of stewardship practices, financial support and community projects. Knowledge transfer and access to finance, for example, have greatly improved the quality and yield of cocoa production with a very positive impact on smallholders income and their livelihoods in Yiri, Ivory Coast. Photo by: Amelie Theriez / Syngenta

The world is facing its toughest challenge. Every single day, the world's population is increasing by 200,000 people. And if we are going to feed them without harming the planet, we need to find a better way.

Farms of all sizes around the globe compete locally and globally, and they need specific support. Over the next six years, we’ve made six commitments to do so. In the context of developing countries, 90 percent of growers farm less than two hectares of land.

Smallholders deserve special attention. We seek to reach 20 million smallholders and enable them to increase productivity by 50 percent. We want to do so by providing access to better inputs, knowledge and training on labor safety.

More than 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Improving their income would be a great advancement toward eradicating global hunger and poverty. We can help farming communities to prosper by providing tools and training that make agriculture more productive, efficient and profitable.

For many of the world’s farmers, the financial risks are high and the returns are low. More than three-quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and migration to the cities continues. We want to help restore and maintain vibrant rural communities and enable farmers to progress beyond subsistence agriculture.

Our target is help improve yields for smallholder farmers, while preserving the long-term potential of their land. We’ll be doing this with the help of organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development to enable access to technology and capacity building for smallholder farming in developing countries.

Let’s take Africa for example. The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, an area the size of Italy, stretches from the coast of Dar es Salaam to the country’s borders with Malawi, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its rich farmland could help increase food security in Tanzania and beyond — but its smallholder farmers lack access to modern inputs, infrastructure and markets, and their crops are at constant risk from extreme weather conditions.

To transform agricultural productivity and reduce environmental impacts in the region and beyond, we supported the development of the SAGCOT initiative, a public-private partnership that brings together government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, farmers and private companies. A public sector commitment of $1.3 billion aims to catalyze additional private investment of $2.1 billion over 20 years.

One of our first initiatives in the region is a partnership with fertilizer company Yara and local universities to improve local rice and corn growing practices through new technologies and techniques. Working directly with smallholders on their plots, we have been helping them to implement best practices and measure the effects on their productivity, profitability and environmental impact. The initial results are encouraging, showing that productivity for rice and corn can be doubled and profit increased by 75 percent, with no increase in water use or greenhouse gas emissions per ton of product. The new protocols are now being used to develop smallholder outgrowers for a major rice plantation which is the first major investment in the SAGCOT area.

We’ve also committed to make crops more efficient by increasing the average productivity of the world's major crops by 20 percent without using more land, water or inputs.

In addition, we’re in the process of rescuing more farmland by improving the fertility of 10 million hectares of farmland on the brink of degradation. Fertile soil is the foundation of sustainable agriculture, but poor farming practices expose soil to erosion by wind and rain, leaving millions of hectares infertile each year. Some 40 percent of the world’s farmland is already seriously degraded, and an area large enough to feed Europe is too depleted to produce food. Achieving this ambitious goal will require better policies for land and soil management. That is why we have a partnership with the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification to establish a soil leadership academy.

Another priority area for us is biodiversity, which can flourish by enhancing the natural habitat, and we’ve begun by improving 5 million hectares of farmland. Clearing more wilderness to plant crops threatens biodiversity and is not sustainable. We must protect all remaining natural habitats for the health of our planet. We need to help farms to become more productive, and farmers to protect and improve the biodiversity around their fields. Programs like Operation Pollinator are already demonstrating what is possible through actively managing the farm to provide better habitat for biodiversity.

Finally, we’re looking after every worker by striving for fair labor conditions throughout our entire supply chain network.

How will you know we are being transparent and honest about progress? We’ll provide our partners and third party auditors complete access to the program implementers and the reference farms where the productivity measurements will be taken. In addition, the Good Growth Plan will be reviewed as part of the annual audit, assurance and corporate reporting process.

The increasing strain we are placing on land, water and energy to grow food and at the same time support booming urban populations is unprecedented. Our future depends on finding solutions to these challenges. The Good Growth Plan is our commitment to make a measurable contribution to six aspects of this challenge by 2020.

Our intention is to make a deep, lasting and positive impact on the farmers and rural communities who provide the world's food security and the long-term sustainability of our planet.

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About the author

  • Juan gonzalez valero

    Juan Gonzalez-Valero

    Juan Gonzalez-Valero is head of public policy and sustainability at Syngenta, where he leads all operations related to integrating sustainability aspects into core business practices, like the Good Growth Plan. He previously directed Syngenta's efforts on risk assessment, sustainable use and stewardship, and corporate social responsibility. Before joining the company, Gonzalez-Valero was head of ecotoxicology at Novartis. He also served as a board member of several nonprofits.