Private Sector Invests in Small-Scale Ag

Private Sector Invests in Small-Scale Ag

October 7, 2015
Economic Development 

In 2015 the Syngenta Foundation will invest millions of dollars to help small-scale farmers raise their productivity and gain access to markets. We spoke to Dr. Marco Ferroni who heads up the foundation, a non-profit organization established by CropLife International member Syngenta in 2001.

What does the Syngenta Foundation do?

Our projects are varied, but all have to do with knowledge-sharing, creating products and services that benefit small-scale farmers and facilitating access for them to viable markets.

For example, in the area of fostering open innovation between public sector breeding and private growers, we worked with an Ethiopian plant breeder to create a new semi-dwarf, high-yielding version of tef, the country’s highly nutritious staple grain. This strain grows shorter and heartier so it holds up to storms. This is a major breakthrough that affects a number of local growers.

Another focus of the Foundation is providing small-scale farmers, for whom cash is the scarcest resource, with affordable crop insurance. We have found that insured farmers spend 20 per cent  more on inputs such as seed and fertilizer than the uninsured. As a result, the Syngenta Foundation launched Acre Africa, a service provider that works with local insurers in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania to bring crop insurance to growers in those areas. We expect that 250,000 farmers in those countries will be insured in 2015.

What is your aim?

Our ultimate goal is always increased and sustainable food security. There is an ongoing debate on self-sufficiency, but Syngenta promotes diversification so that farmers have enough for both the farm and for sale. Through economic development and urbanization, the increasing need for food growth in developing countries is creating significant opportunities for local farmers to sell domestically.

However, there needs to be access to market so that farmers are able to sell their surplus. To help alleviate this problem, we created Farmforce, a software platform that connects smallholder farmers with cooperatives and agribusinesses through mobile technology, making them an essential part of remunerative value chains. The program lowers the cost of sourcing from these farmers through management, traceability and compliance tools.

How has the Foundation made an impact?

Some organizations believe that an Excel sheet listing smallholder farmers who attended a training session shows impact. We don’t.

Impact for us means sustainably larger and higher-quality harvests from small fields, sustainably higher income from better access and social benefits that accrue from both of these outcomes (healthier diets, better housing, school fees paid for daughters, etc.). This impact obviously goes well beyond farmers themselves – local communities benefit as well as urban consumers able to buy better food.  The next generation also benefits and so should future ones. Farmers who weren’t involved in our projects benefit because they learn new techniques from colleagues who were. Our partner organizations benefit, too, along with local people able to start up new businesses related to farming. And so it goes on.

How much does the foundation invest each year?

The Syngenta Foundation has a 2015 budget of nearly $17 million USD. We’ve been around that mark for several years now.  This is just core funding, however, and mainly pays for the work of 70 employees around the world.

How important are partnerships?

As a small foundation, we never do anything alone. By always working in partnerships, we pilot and scale up projects that involve much greater sums than this. Naturally, partners don’t just put cash on the table; some, in fact, have none to put there. What’s important is that everybody contributes what they’re best able to: expertise, time, fields, equipment, and research findings – whatever it takes to solve the problem that is impeding smallholder farmers locally.