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18/12/2017 – News / Agriculture / Syngenta / Africa

Five years on, Syngenta’s Africa projects are bearing fruit, but smallholders access to tech remains limited

In 2012, following the G8 meeting in Camp David, USA, leading agricultural company Syngenta announced an ambitious 10-year growth plan for its African business. Back then, Syngenta wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the continent can be food-secure within a generation…a boon for business and humanity alike”. With this year marks the midway point in that African growth journey, we explore what the firm has achieved so far on the continent, and where bottlenecks still remain.


There are currently more than 450 million smallholder farmers in operation around the globe, most of whom have family farms of less than two hectares of land. One of those is Tabitha Muthoni, who grows tomatoes in Utange, near Mombasa, in Kenya. For farmers like Tabitha, increased productivity can make a big difference in their ability to support their families, to send their children to school and to continue investing in their fields.


Since 2016, Tabitha has been part of Mavuno Zaidi, a project by Syngenta and TechnoServe that tackles difficulties faced by potato and tomato farmers in Kenya, including access to inputs, training opportunities and post-harvest storage solutions. Farmers participating also get better linkages to local markets. “Before the programme, I had tried out tomato farming but had little knowledge on the crop and its diseases, often visiting agrovets with picked leaves to explain the problems I was facing,” reported Tabitha, who today makes US$5,000 per season on her small tomato farm – a huge leap from the US$2,000 she would receive per season prior to joining the initiative – and has grown her enterprise from four to 11 employees.


Transforming yields


To date, Mavuno Zaidi, or “grow more” in Swahili, has helped Syngenta and TechnoServe reach over 25,000 farmers, returning an average productivity increase of 185 per cent for those tomato farmers.


However, such outreach work is just one example of Syngenta’s Africa ambition, as Alexandra Brand, Syngenta’s Regional Director for Europe, Africa and Middle East, explained: “Our chief aim is supporting the inclusion of smallholder farmers into viable value-chains so that they produce more of what national and global markets want. We strive to transform farmer yields at scale and increase their profitability in a way that creates sustainable value.” 


Investing in innovation


How does Syngenta do this exactly? Alexandra summarises: “Our expertise lays in bringing top-class technology and agronomic knowledge tailored to the needs of diverse growers. Recognising that Syngenta cannot achieve these goals alone and that farmers require holistic solutions, we continue to invest in innovative partnerships. These collaborations must tackle such barriers faced by African farmers as access to inputs, inadequate financial solutions, limited produce aggregation, dysfunctional markets, skills and information gaps.”


But despite many collaborative efforts, progress is slow. Moving Africa closer to the UN Sustainability Development Goal of ‘Zero Hunger’ requires long-term commitment. Moreover, the food chain revolving around the smallholder remains too disjointed. 


Alexandra says that Syngenta sees events like the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which took place earlier this year in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, as “a springboard to build stronger partnerships with like-minded organisations” who share the firm’s vision and who can complement its skills and expertise with their own.


Achieving impact at scale


Smallholder development projects – run in partnership with industry, academia, farmer organisations, civil society and enabled by national governments and international organisations – are crucial to achieving impact at scale. ‘We at Syngenta believe that only through creative and committed collaborations can farmers access the full suite of products and services they need to succeed,’ said Syngenta in a statement. The company, which employs roughly 28,000 people across 90 countries, is working to transform how crops are grown. ‘Through world-class science and innovative crop solutions, we are committed to rescuing land from degradation, enhancing biodiversity and revitalising rural communities,’ it continued.


Working across more than 50 countries in Africa and the Middle East with a team of over 3000 people, Syngenta is driving growth through local investment, capacity-building and business development initiatives that aim to provide crop protection and seed technologies tailored to the specific needs of this territory’s vast potential. ‘Our ambition is to increase large and small scale farmer’s ability to sustainably invest in agriculture, leading to dignified livelihoods and thriving rural communities,’ the firm added.

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