This article is part of our special report The future of EU agriculture innovation.
If we’re going to feed the planet sustainably by the middle of the century, the food has to come in much larger volumes from Asia and Africa, the head of Syngenta Foundation told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
“The yield increases that are going to happen in Europe, North America, Australia, and so on, are going to be modest in comparison to the challenges in terms of the amount of food that needs to be produced,” Simon Winter said.
Speaking to EURACTIV on the sidelines of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture in Brussels, Winter said the foundation’s mission is to help transform smallholder agriculture in developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa.
“The yield gaps that we have right now are very significant still in Africa and Asia. The smallholders don’t have access to technologies and to the knowledge of how to improve their farming and how to close those yield gaps. And that’s where the foundation comes in,” he said.
The global population is expected to rise from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050, according to UN projections, meaning food production will have to double to meet nutritional needs.
However, environmentalists do not share this view. They say the planet cannot be faced with undernutrition and obesity at the same time and advocate the better distribution of food globally.
Managing the risk
Winter said the foundation identifies and develops the right technologies that are appropriate for those smallholders and not the technologies that are currently in use in North America or Europe.
“We have adaptations of seeds, for example, to be more climate-resilient or more tolerant of heat or drought or floods or other more extreme conditions that are happening with climate change.”
Winter added that another significant contribution is to “de-risk” the process of those taking on those technologies via a number of ways focusing on the market conditions and insurance.
The agricultural expert said Syngenta works with young people, who have an entrepreneurial spirit and come from rural communities. It helps them set up small businesses “agents” for their rural communities.
For now, the company has invested in Bangladesh and India while Cambodia, Kenya, Senegal and Mali are coming up.
After proper training, these young people provide products, technologies, advice and training.
“Even though the farmers may not have a smartphone, the agent in the community has a smartphone and he/she can then be connected to.”
Winter added that infrastructure is a key challenge. He said some projects close to the farm, such as irrigation and storage solutions, can be done by the foundation but larger projects can only be addressed through multi-stakeholder partnerships and coalitions.
“We have to talk to the government and potential investors working with the government that might be funding these kinds of projects to put new infrastructure in place.”
He referred to the Farm to Market Alliance, a multi-stakeholder partnership in East Africa, consisting among others of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), agri-food giant Bayer, fertiliser company Yara, Rabobank Group, the United Nations World Food Programme and Syngenta.
He said the whole idea was to organise integrated value chains. “Starting with the market so the farmers can take the investment decision and then you have a platform dealing with policies and engaging with the government on too high infrastructure issues,” Winter concluded.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos]