Helping farmers, fighting climate change

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Coronavirus has exposed the fragility of global food supply chains we have too often taken for granted. Even the most prosperous countries must now address questions of food security, availability and affordability.

The threat is real, our IPSOS Mori survey of EU farmers found almost half had been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, one in three of the farmers surveyed said the crisis has left them worried about the long-term viability of farming.

And this is a sector that was already suffering the effects of extreme weather caused by climate change. Volatile weather patterns have brought with them new pests and diseases to contend with and put more pressure on water and other scarce resources.

Collaboration not polarisation

That’s why it was a real honour to join a distinguished panel at the EURACTIV event this week on food security and climate change, where I was able to discuss these issues with the EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, Agnes Kalibata (President of AGRA – Growing Africa’s Agriculture), Jeroen Douglas (Executive Director of the Solidaridad Network) and Tassos Haniotis (DG Agriculture).

Commissioner Wojciechowski agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had brought renewed attention to food security and that we need to work together to help farmers better face climate change and foster climate resilience.

From our discussion, it was clear that we all have a common aim. We want healthy, nutritious food and we want to address climate change. As we face a time of great economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and the existential threat of climate change we must move away from a polarised debate on agriculture.

As we start to rebuild after the coronavirus shutdowns, we must ensure that the recovery is one that is both more sustainable and gives us a food supply more resilient to the effects of climate change. We need a green economic recovery with sustainability at its core, there does not need to be a trade-off between affordable food and the environment.

Agriculture as part of the solution

Agriculture is in a unique position, unlike other carbon-emitting sectors, farming both emits and stores greenhouse gasses.

Our IPSOS Mori research shows 65% of farmers recognise the impact agriculture has on the environment, agriculture alone currently produces 12% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. That must change.

With the right innovation, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit and at the same time, we can boost the organic matter in the soil so that it absorbs and holds more carbon.

During the EURACTIV debate Tassos Haniotis, from the Directorate General for Agriculture in the European Commission said Farmers are never going to do what bureaucrats tell them, they do what other farmers do, what is successful.

Our IPSOS Mori survey revealed that 59% of larger farmers recognise that reducing greenhouse gas emissions makes their businesses more competitive. We need to ensure we continue to innovate to make this the case for all farmers.

Agnes Kalibata, the President of AGRA (Growing Africa’s Agriculture) also pointed out during the debate that we need a plan that looks at the whole world, not just a part of the world. The challenges faced by a large farmer in Portugal are not the same as the issues faced by a smaller farmer in Kenya.

Launching our new Good Growth Plan

That’s why at Syngenta Group the focus of our new good Growth Plan is ‘helping farmers, fighting climate change’, and why we have placed innovation at its core, because there is no one size fits all solution to climate change.  We are a global company and that is the lens through which we look at the world.

We will invest $2 billion over the next five years towards innovation specifically targeted at delivering a step change in agricultural sustainability. Through our accelerated innovation program, we will bring at least two major innovations to market each year that will enable a step change in agricultural sustainability.

We want to enhance biodiversity and soil health on 3 million hectares of rural land every year. As we strive for carbon-neutral agriculture, we will also seek to reduce the carbon intensity of our own operations by at least 50% by 2030.

Building strong enduring partnerships

But we cannot do this alone, building strong partnerships and publishing clear sustainability objectives is the only way the sector can deliver change throughout the agricultural value chain.

Our collaborations with The Nature Conservancy and The Solidaridad Network show how we can combine resources and knowledge to fight climate change and biodiversity loss.

Jeroen Douglas, Executive Director at the Solidaridad Network spoke at our EURACTIV debate about working together to improve farm practices and soil fertility. In Colombia, for example, we are working with the Solidaridad Network with the aim of helping smallholders increase their incomes by 25% by tackling the coffee borer beetle.

We know this collaborative approach can work, our previous Good Growth Plan helped rescue more than 14m hectares of farmland on the brink of degradation, trained more than 42m farm workers on safety and our biodiversity projects have enhanced more than 5m hectares of farmland around the world.

That plan was of course, just the start, our new Good Growth Plan will help farmers increase productivity while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.  At the Syngenta Group, we are ready to work with all farmers, governments, regulators and NGOs to provide the science, technology and innovation required to do just that.

The new Good Growth Plan will drive the growth of the Syngenta Group and the profitability of growers. It will also deliver the right outcome for nature and the planet. Investing in doing the right thing, is the right thing to do.

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