Global Logistics and Plant Science

Marion Matthewman is the Head of Global Logistics at Syngenta and we spoke with Marion about the supply chain. Her daily work within all aspects of the movement of seeds, crop protection and other inputs to farmers provides a unique perspective in times like this on the impacts of production and processing disruptions.

Read on to learn about the supply chain, how the plant science industry navigates it and the technology platforms available to help:

Can you briefly explain why strong supply chains are important?

The supply chain can be defined as the flow of goods and services that transforms raw materials into final products, and we know that businesses that have effective and well managed supply chains will have satisfied customers. Customer satisfaction is highly dependent on strong and reliable supply chain operations, where you have accurate and reliable lead times, guaranteeing you receive your order on time and that you are satisfied with the product.

How does the reliable movement of seed and chemicals benefit farmers?

Henry Ford had an insightful quote related to supply chain he said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”  I like that. It makes sense to me, if everybody works together the different stages of the “chain”, like a seeds chain from the production/multiplication, processing, packaging, storage and distributing to ultimately reaching the farmer, then the customer will be happy.

A reliable supply chain becomes critical to farmers because it can assist them to plan and prepare more accurately around their planting and crop preparation, giving them confidence and enabling a more robust return on their investments.  Resilient and agile supply chains, ones that are well prepared for unplanned events, like weather variances or events such as COVID-19, are in a better position to react and manage potential bottlenecks wherever they may be along the chain.

This year we are experiencing a disruption in the supply chain that is challenging for all industries and all supply chains, the supply chains that succeed will be the ones most resilient through good preparation, have tools to bring visibility, strong logistics actors and collaboration between the different parts of the chain, so that clear instructions and decisions can be done in a timely manner.

Syngenta can be very proud of the way COVID-19 is being managed, we have been well prepared and had the ability to keep our promise to our customers, I am very proud that the team are receiving positive and grateful feedback from our customers, they’re doing an incredible job, well done to them.

Do supply chains affect food security? How so?

Yes, they can. We know already before COVID-19 many millions of people in many countries in the world experienced food insecurities, and these vulnerable countries already compromised by weakened health standards possibly rendering them less able to fend off the virus. We must keep critical food supply chains operating, so people continue to have access to life sustaining food – therefore there is an urgency of maintaining the delivery of humanitarian assistance, to keep people in crisis fed.  It is both more humane and strategically smarter to protect and sustain agricultural and rural likelihoods before food crisis hit, rather than rebuild them. I am living in an environment where I have a choice of where I shop for food, not everyone in such a privileged situation, keeping these vital supply chains working will save lives.

How has COVID-19 affected the global supply chain?

We all have been affected, there is no doubt about that. what is helping our business is the fact that food production has been recognized by most governments as a critical industry.

As a result of COVID-19, a key impact on the supply chain has been the restrictions governments placed on people movements with quickly following with closing or restricting people movement across international borders. The impact of this is that operations that rely on labor-intensive processes that require people to work closely together have been disrupted, impacting production, packaging, transportation, port operations, air cargo, etc, with the exception of essential front-line workers which included drivers of trucks for essential items.

Supply Chains are operated by capable individuals, and behind every supply chain, there is a chain of people connecting and communicating. In a situation like COVID-19, the successful management of the crisis relies on the human element of the chain, where individuals go beyond the norm to make sure each step of the chain can be achieved.

We have seen a particular impact on our business through an increase in Blank (cancelled) Sailings, we anticipated this would happen because the retail industry who move largest volumes on global shipping has slowed down due to restrictions and social distancing imposed by Governments, shops are not open for the public to buy various goods anymore. The team have to quickly find alternative ways to get the product moved, in some cases it would be a wait for the next boat the following week. Being well prepared, resilient and agile with an exemplary team that go the last mile delivers a winning performance.

Has your global technology platform been helpful in the current situation?

Oh Yes, absolutely.  I became the head of logistics for Syngenta just under five years ago and I can remember vividly in my first few weeks being asked “Where’s my stuff?” I can recall it wasn’t as easy as it should have been to find out. Five years on, Syngenta has implemented a global logistics visibility platform.  The platform is linked directly with our logistics partners around the world, their specialist logistics capabilities ensures Syngenta’s goods have the best teams in the industry executing on our behalf. The information comes directly into the platform providing continuous data feed about logistics milestones and activities, we are in a very strong position to manage global logistics operations especially during the COVID-19. We are in a position to give clear instructions to our logistics partners what and where our priority products and customers are that need moving, these strong partnerships are helping us to win in the marketplace.

What is one thing you would like all consumers to know about supply chains now at this moment in time?

As I reflect on this question, I keep thinking about the human element, the people behind the chain, and I think that such crisis events can bring the worst and the best in people.  We should not forget that behind every supply chain, there is a chain of human beings doing the very best in a very difficult situation; they are doing their best to ensure they satisfy our needs, the customer.

My ask is that we all be kind and not to be too quick to judge others, be patient and don’t forget that behind all the actions and the expectations, there are people trying to do their very best, who have family, friends and colleagues that they are thinking and caring about. Those of us that can work from home can control our safe environment, a truck driver for example cannot do their job from the safety of their home, these are our frontline heroes, and we are all thankful for the risks that they are taking on our behalf.

I’m so incredibly proud of what the supply team has done in managing this crisis, more telling is how they have worked in a strong, professional and considerate way together. They do it because they are proud of what they are doing, the icing on the cake comes when you receive feedback from Syngenta customers saying, “You guys nailed it, you’re well organized, you’re on top of it.” … that’s nice to hear.   Thanks very much, you’re a great team and I’m honored to be working with you.