Javier Valdés
Territory Head LATAM North
Syngenta
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Syngenta: Assisting Farmers in a New Reality

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 07/13/2020 - 14:37

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Syngenta’s operations in Mexico and the rest of the countries where it operates?

A: Agriculture is an essential sector and food production is key for the country. In this sense, we have to ensure the continuity of processes in the field, which is why we have been working continuously so farmers have the necessary inputs for production.

When we talk about the main limiting factors for production or the most pressing needs of farmers, the first element that comes to mind is the cost of inputs. The second is the loss of crops given climate conditions or biological problems, such as plagues, diseases and weeds, that without an effective control can lead to crop losses of up to 40 percent. After this,are issues like technical assistance, the price of crops and where to commercialize them.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most pressing concerns is related to the cost of production. When the dollar increases its value compared to the Mexican peso, imported inputs cost more. However, this is not necessarily bad news for export products such as certain fruits and vegetables. Given that Mexico imports a significant amount of grains, however, livestock production experienced an increase in costs. Syngenta contributes by providing farmers accessible technologies. We have to adjust to the new reality. Farmers that grow grains for local consumption have to find ways to avoid the impact of rising costs.

The other reality is that given the pandemic, consumption of certain products has fallen, mainly those that are consumed in restaurants or specialty products like berries or some tomato specialties. Reduced demand leads to losses in profitability. Our solutions improve production and help in the generation of a higher yield per hectare so overall profitability is improved. As a result, higher production costs do not impact farmers as much.

Beans are an example of this. Though this is a very important crop for the country, the dry climate we experienced in 2019 led to a deficit. One of our seed treatments can increase productivity between 30 and 40 percent. A single technology can benefit producers greatly because it helps them face climate change and become more productive in situations of hydric stress. We are also working with other organizations such as the National Agribusiness Council (CNA), CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) and VIDA to develop programs where we can integrate farmers to local production chains so they can commercialize their crops in local industries. We are also working on programs like “Maíz para México” and now “Frijol para México.”

We are engaging in knowledge transfer and technical assistance. Through the technical team we have in the field, we continue to provide consultancy to farmers. We have not stopped despite the pandemic and when we cannot visit farmers directly, we use technology to reach them.

Q: What strategies has Syngenta implemented to grow all its divisions in Mexico?

A: We are industry leaders in the crop protection division. In the seeds division, we are leaders in several vegetable seeds and we are building a platform to participate in a more relevant way in maize seeds. Our third business division is seed treatment, which is an area in which we are working so farmers have the seed already protected against potential biological risks before planting it.

To increase our participation, we are investing in the seeds segment where we see a significant opportunity, specifically in the area of maize seeds. Given that corn is the main crop in Mexico, we are investing to develop hybrids that will help farmers increase productivity through seeds that better tolerate plagues, diseases or climate change.

Q: How is Syngenta helping farmers to manage changing consumer expectations?

A: There is a growing demand for a more sustainable agriculture. Society is demanding products with fewer chemicals and that have a reduced environmental impact. Thus, we are working in these areas. We have made a commitment to invest in the next five years US$2 billion to research new technologies that allow seeds to better tolerate climate change while taking care of the planet, the health of the soil and to provide a better biological control for problems that farmers face. We also have sustainability commitments to reduce green-house and carbon emissions. We are also working on selecting technologies that have a beneficial impact on the environment. To this end, we have the commitment to generate alliances, to help us reach this bold commitments. All these form part of the new Good Growth Plan, that we recently launched globally. In the first phase of our sustainability program in the past five years,  we surpassed most of the metrics we had set.

We are also working in other areas that have seen increased demand. For example, we have been working for 10 years on a program called Operation Pollinator. The program started in Europe and we have brought it to Mexico to demonstrate the viability of conventional agricultural production, maintaining adequate practices to protect biodiversity and bees.

Q: Which crops will need the most help from Syngenta in 2020?

A: We have to secure bean production. In Mexico, beans are produced in the central and northern states of the country, such as Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, the northern part of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Durango and Chihuahua. These are the states where the most surface is sowed and where precipitation is limited. This is an area of opportunity for farmers to make crops more resilient.

The other crop we are working on is maize, since we only produce two-thirds of the maize we need in the country and we import around 16 million tons of yellow corn from the US. We believe that by increasing productivity in the country we can reduce export dependency.

Q: How is Syngenta boosting profitable agricultural practices, while taking care of Mexican biodiversity?

A: This has advanced significantly, particularly in the north of the country. However, this does not mean there are no profitable crops in the south. Bananas, papayas, watermelon and palm oil are just some examples of crops that are grown in the south and that have become very profitable for farmers. However, the north part of the country tends to be more efficient.

While there is an important number of maize producers that focus on self-sufficiency and not on commercialization, we are seeing that once they have access to technology and they have an excess of production, they start selling in their communities. This benefit is the result of increased productivity. When farmers experience these benefits, modernization and technical advances take hold.

Q: What are Syngenta's priorities for 2020?

A: Our main focus at the moment is taking care of farmers and our collaborators. This is key because we need to ensure that food production is not interrupted. Now that the summer season is approaching, we play a key role in making sure production continues. The second priority is to keep presenting technologies that help farmers become more efficient. These new technologies mean more efficiency for farmers and more profitability. We must also ensure continuity of technical assistance, while sharing knowledge with farmers on how to apply new technologies and increase crop efficiency.

Syngenta will continue working to make Mexico a food powerhouse. We will continue generating technology that will allow farmers to take advantage of the resources we have to generate more value for internal consumption and for exports.

 

Syngenta is a global company that produces agrochemicals and seeds. It is a leading producer of crop protection products worldwide. In Mexico, Syngenta has one experimental station where it works on seed development

Photo by:   MBP
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst