Syngenta aims to boost global crop yields by 20 percent

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2013- Agribusiness and NGO leaders gathered in Washington today to learn about Syngenta's seven-year plan to boost worldwide crop yields, a challenge that cannot be solved merely by applying the latest fertilizers or pesticides, said Syngenta's CEO Mike Mack.

Syngenta aims to increase the average productivity of the world's major crops by 20 percent without using more land, water or crops. The agricultural chemicals company announced a “Good Growth Plan,” with six outlined commitments set for 2020, intended to address global food security challenges.

Some of the plan's six commitments, which include enhancing biodiversity on farmland and helping farmers employ no-till practices, are also environmental goals. But Mack noted that Syngenta's success delivering the latest agricultural technologies will only continue if land and water can sustain the industry.

Lets Talk Food

“We have always been acutely aware that our business can only grow if we ensure that farming is carried out in a sustainable way,” Mack said.

The company asserted in its announcement that its future success is “inextricably linked with sustainable natural resources, healthy ecosystems and thriving rural communities.”

Public acceptance is also linked with environmentally conscious efforts, Syngenta leaders noted. 

“Companies are going to have to have sustainable supply chains to be competitive,” Mack said.

The “Good Growth Plan” launched on four continents today, with events in several cities as well as Washington, DC. 

Syngenta opened its event in Washington with a presentation from the Rainforest Alliance's vice president of programs Josh Tosteson. He said global goals of food security must be achieved through “restructuring the power dynamics in the entire value chain.”

The Rainforest Alliance's promotion of responsible land use and influence on consumer practice “doesn't sound particularly new or transformative,” Tosteson noted. “But a couple of decades ago we'd be standing outside this type of meeting with picket signs.”

Syngenta's goals, which it says will be continually evaluated by third-party auditors, to be achieved by 2020 include:

--Increase average productivity of the world's major crops by 20 percent without using more land, water or inputs

--Improve the fertility of 10 million hectares of farmland on the brink of degradation, which includes using minimum tillage and crop rotation

--Enhance biodiversity on five million hectares of farmland, which includes using buffer strips and species protection programs

-- Reach 20 million smallholders and enable them to increase productivity by 50 percent

--Train 20 million farm workers on labor safety, especially in developing countries

--Strive for fair labor conditions throughout our entire supply chain network

According to Mack, these six commitments “represent an opportunity to meet a portion of the food security challenges on the planet.” 

“Business must play a greater role in helping growers farm more sustainably,” he said. “We're changing the way we operate.”

Referencing a July survey conducted in 13 countries by Syngenta, Mack said he found that the public is becoming more open to technology, but at the same time would like to minimize the use of pesticides, genetically modified seeds and fertilizers.

“Many people regard farming as needing to become more sustainable as productivity increases,” he said. “On that we are all agreed.”

Syngenta's Regional Director for North America, David Morgan, highlighted several technologies developed by the company that help major crops resist drought and damaging insects. “The technology is there,” he said. “How do we make sure it is employed in a sustainable way?”

Syngenta wants to boost global yields of major crops like corn and wheat by 20 percent, but Mack added that his company is in a unique position to be familiar with varying crops in different climactic regions due to its broad base in more than 90 countries.

Mack said the Good Growth Plan “is not a means to set us apart” from other companies, because “we can't solve these challenges by ourselves.”

The launch today is also intended to serve as an “invitation to help us,” he said. “All of the people in here are empowered themselves to shape things.”

Existing partners on the project include the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), USAID and the Fair Labor Association.

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