The UN Sustainable Development Goal 8,  “Decent work and economic growth for all’, highlights the global challenges brought on due to a continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption. Sustainable economic growth will require societies to create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs that stimulate the economy while not harming the environment.

Many companies are stepping up to tackle the challenges, such as Syngenta, a global Swiss agribusiness that produces agrochemicals and seeds. They are committed to help improve global food security by enabling millions of farmers to make better use of available resources. Three years ago the company announced six ambitious commitments for 2020 known as the Good Growth Plan. In 2015, as a result of this plan, the company was able to reach 17.2 million smallholder farmers, allowing them to access solutions to increase their productivity and benefit rural communities.

We spoke to their Head of Corporate Affairs, Andrew McConville, about some of their initiatives including the Good Growth Plan and empowering women in agriculture. Andrew has over 20 years experience in government and public affairs, public policy, corporate and crisis communication, corporate social responsibility and general management.

In 2013 Syngenta introduced a set of corporate goals, known as the Good Growth Plan. Tell us about the 6 commitments and how they will help improve the sustainability of agriculture and your business?

The challenge of feeding a growing population while managing scarce resources is well understood. It is important as a company that we are able to make a concrete contribution to addressing this challenge in a sustainable manner. The Good Growth Plan, is an integral part of our business strategy and reflects three key areas: product efficiency, environmental impact and people, our impact on which is measured through six commitments:

  1.  Make crops more efficient: Increase average productivity of the world’s major crops by 20 percent without using more land, water or inputs.
  2. Rescue more farmland: Improve the fertility of 10 million hectares of degraded land.
  3.  Help biodiversity flourish: Enhance the biodiversity on 5 million hectares of farmland.
  4. Empower smallholders: Reach 20 million smallholders and enable them to increase productivity by 50 percent.
  5. Help people stay safe: Train 20 million farm workers on labor safety, especially in developing countries.
  6. Look after every worker: Strive for fair labor conditions throughout our entire supply chain network.

The commitments focus our skills and resources on understanding and meeting the most pressing needs of society, our customers and stakeholders. It demands innovation and enterprise from every part of our organization.

Food security and the long-term future of our business depends on how we help farmers address the challenges they face today. Improving the sustainability of farming and the prosperity of rural communities are at the center of everything we do.

Since the implementation of Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan in 2013, what forward strides has the company made in meeting these commitments?

Since launch in 2013, we have reported our progress year on year across all six commitments and take confidence in the impact we are having. If we consider “Empower Smallholders” for example; in 2015 we reached 17.2 million smallholders providing them with technology to improve productivity through the application of our products. We are also providing access to tools and training that help small farmers increase yields. In Lumajang, Indonesia for example, we work with rice growers who have achieved yields upwards of 10 tons a hectare. Syngenta agronomists, together with other partners support those growers to pass on their knowledge to 30 other smallholders.

Considering our biodiversity commitments, programs such as Operation Pollinator have helped to enhance biodiversity on 1.6 million hectares of farmland globally. In delivering safe use training, we have trained 5.7 million people in the last twelve months . In 2015, we also became the first agricultural company to receive Fair Labor Association accreditation for our program in India which supports fair labor standards on farms that produce Syngenta seeds.

Since 2013, we have forged a range of new partnerships and work with a range of stakeholders including farmers, academic institutions, NGOs and governments among others. For example, under the World Economic Forum’s Grow Asia platform, we are joining a number of partnerships across ASEAN countries to enable smallholders through for example, facilitating access to finance, agronomic knowledge and markets.

Syngenta has the potential to play a key role in celebrating and empowering women in the agricultural industry all over the world. What challenges do women working in agriculture still face in developing countries today?

Women farmers are critical to rural economies, especially in the Asian smallholder farming system. Enabling them to reach their full potential is key to ensuring long-term food security and sustainable agriculture.

While there are common challenges, the barriers that women farmers face in developing countries differ by culture and farming practices. In many countries, women farmers do not have full ownership over the family land limiting their ability to take decisions on the farm. Access to knowledge, inputs and technology are also constraints in some countries, resulting in limited access to markets and financial services relative to male farmers.

Syngenta recognises the importance of enabling women farmers, particularly in smallholder markets and is working to better understand where we can make a more significant impact.

With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goal’s last year, what are the main practical steps that can be taken at UN level to further encourage sustainable consumption and production on a global scale?

The SDGs are a crucial step forward for global sustainability and provide a focus for how we can better mobilise efforts toward a more sustainable future. We see that the SDGs will help drive better partnerships between the private sector, governments and civil society, because no one sector has all of the answers to the challenges we face. The scale of investment and innovation required to achieve sustainable development and food security demands that such partnerships be wide ranging, effective and impactful. We also see that more information is needed to ensure adequate monitoring of progress and to drive better accountability and with The Good Growth Plan, we believe Syngenta has already begun to make its contribution.

And finally tell us what do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the agricultural and food production sectors in the next 20 years and how is Syngenta equipped to face these challenges?

Frankly speaking, our six commitments under The Good Growth Plan in my view represent the biggest challenges of agriculture today. The Plan considers the resource efficiency required to underpin productivity, the ecosystem resilience necessary to sustain future productivity, and the knowledge transfer needed to support and strengthen rural communities. It also pays particular attention to smallholders, who dominate farming across Asia, as small farmers have the greatest potential to increase farm productivity.

As a company providing agricultural solutions to farmers, improving sustainable farming is at the heart of our strategy and is embedded in how we conduct business. We believe we can help to support the development of sustainable agriculture through a better understanding of our farmers’ pain points, as well as our continuous innovation, solutions and partnerships worldwide.

We also understand the need to be held accountable and provide transparency for our results, and are working with NGO partners and other 3rd parties to audit the progress. We will be much clearer of what we have achieved and how we are contributing.

For more information on our progress, please click: Progress Report 2015.