Javier Valdés
General Director
Syngenta Latin America North
Expert Contributor

Pollinators and Agriculture: The Sweetest Union

By Javier Valdés | Thu, 10/22/2020 - 13:30

Design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber introduced the term "wicked problem" in 1973 to draw attention to the complexities and challenges of addressing multifactorial problems. Unlike the problems of mathematics, the wicked problems lack clarity in both their aims and solutions, they often have several complex social and scientific causes that turn into complex solutions as well. In addition to these challenges of articulation and internal logic, they are subject to real-world constraints that prevent multiple and risk-free attempts at solving. Examples include climate change, world poverty, the global financial crisis and currently, COVID-19.

The truth is that we are surrounded by wicked problems, especially in this pandemic era, at a global and local level, and many of these are new, difficult to solve or control and often threatening. They are generally outside most people’s day to day experience, there is disagreement about how best to overcome them (although not tackling them may lead to an escalation of the problem or even a major disaster) and addressing them will require profound changes. Examples include climate change, world poverty, the global financial crisis, child abuse, terrorism and drug abuse.

Pollinators – insects, birds, bats and other animals that carry pollen from the male to the female parts of flowers for plant reproduction – are an essential part of natural and agricultural ecosystems throughout the world. Most fruit, vegetable and seed crops and some crops that provide fiber, drugs and fuel depend on pollinators.
In the last several years, it has been difficult to determine if species around the world are declining and also the causes or consequences of this decline, but scientists around the world agree that several complex factors are involved: climate change, parasites and pathogens such as Varroa destructor, habitat fragmentation and loss, and nonsustainable use of crop protection products.


Pollination is not just a fascinating biological process; it is an essential ecological survival function. Without pollinators, humans and ecosystems would just not survive. Of the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world, i.e., those that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products, almost 80 percent require pollination by animals. Visits from bees and other pollinators also result in larger, more flavorful fruits and higher crop yields. Therefore, Syngenta, as a leading agricultural company focused on improving crop yields while taking care of the environment, has been seeking ideas and projects on how to contribute to the important relationship between agriculture and pollinators. 

For over 15 years, Operation Pollinator has created essential habitats in field margins or on fallow land on commercial farms. These habitats provide nesting and food resources for bees, pollinators and beneficial insects, as well as for small mammals and farmland birds, enhancing overall biodiversity in an agricultural landscape. It also provides farmers and the environment with important ecosystem services like pollination and pest control that improve crop yields, securing sustainable farming and environmental balance.

Operation Pollinator is an essential sustainable farming practice that delivers multiple environmental, economic and social benefits to a wide range of stakeholders. From environmental benefits, such as increasing pollinators and beneficial insects and creating habitats for farmland birds and small mammals, to social impacts, such as offering recreational areas and ecotourism opportunities arising from connected landscapes and sensitizing and creating an environmental respect culture among growers, Syngenta’s program also focuses on having an economic impact as an essential axis of the program. Becoming a sustainable tool to support Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs and increasing yields and quality of fruits, the implementation of Operation Pollinator becomes a strong solution to better face the complex challenges faced in agricultural systems. 

For the past two years in Mexico, we have been implementing experimental and research phases of this program, with key allies, such as the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a strong global network of NGO’s focused on sustainable agriculture practices, and the National Conservation Agriculture Association (ANAC), to implement this program for berries in Jalisco and for corn in Puebla and Tlaxcala. We have ambitious plans to extend the program to many farms and continue having a deep impact on the way crops are produced in Mexico.
For the past six years, we have enhanced biodiversity on more than 5 million hectares of farmland and continue helping growers put more food and habitat for pollinators back into the farming landscape. With this, we as a company respond to the growing demands of society for building a sustainable agriculture. 

We are confident that Syngenta can help to address the decline of pollinators by promoting more sustainable practices that diversify agricultural landscapes and we are working hard on this as part of our bold sustainable agriculture program: The Good Growth Plan. 

Photo by:   Javier Valdés