Keen team tackles China’s rural challenges
Our team in China has published its first activity report. It covers the years 2018-20. We asked our Country Director Tony Tong and Program Head Yuan Zhou to tell us more.
Syngenta Foundation: The report covers three years. What are your special highlights of the SFSA China journey so far?
Yuan Zhou (YZ): There are several! First, we successfully registered our representative office in a relatively short period in 2018. That was a great achievement. Second, we launched several smallholder development projects in Gansu and Sichuan, in collaboration with local government, cooperatives, and enterprises. We’ve built trust and created a positive impact locally. Third, we’ve got fantastic local people who help accelerate our progress on the ground.
What was your main reason for producing this report?
Tony Tong (TT): By sharing our stories, we want to inspire and encourage more people and organizations to join us. Since establishing the SFSA China office, our team has been working hard with a wide range of local partners to help smallholders, mainly in western China. The feedback so far is that our work is highly appreciated. Partners recognize it as a unique supplement supporting agricultural development and China’s poverty alleviation efforts.
The team has gone to a lot of work doing versions in Chinese and English. Who are your main readership groups for the two languages?
TT: The Chinese version is mainly intended for local governments, our partners, research institutes, and potential partners such as interested agri-enterprises, as well as Syngenta Group China. The English version is for a global audience. That includes international organizations present in China, such as IFAD, FAO, etc. – and visitors to this website!
People often ask what difference a little Foundation like ours can make in a huge and world-leading country like China. What’s your answer?
YZ: China has a vast rural area and there is a huge disparity in agricultural development. In Western China especially, I see that we can play a unique role in bridging gaps between government poverty alleviation efforts and how the rural economy serves smallholders. A Foundation like ours can identify growers’ “pain points” in under-developed regions. It can then bring in much-needed technologies (such as seeds), training and advisory services, as well as building market information and linkages. We can also demonstrate solutions related to longer-term issues such as soil health.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing farmers in the regions we serve?
YZ: I’d like to highlight two of them. One challenge is that most of the farmers want to shift from traditional cereals to cash or higher-value crops. Trying to earn better incomes sounds fine in theory. However, few smallholders have the necessary knowledge and capacity to modernize and grow these crops well. Most also lack the market information and links that enable good sales. The other major challenge is the shortage of labor. Migration to the cities has drained the rural workforce. Mechanization has not been able to fill the gaps. It has become increasingly difficult to get young people interested in agricultural careers. As you can in the report, our China team is helping tackle both these challenges.
Moving on from report to forecast: What will the team’s main focus be in 2021-2022?
TT: We’ll firmly continue our current work this year and next. It won’t always be easy. But after all the great efforts we’ve made since 2018, we hope that more and more people and organizations will choose to work with us on these important tasks in the near future.