En route to a bright future for smallholder farming
Our Foundation has laid out its new strategy for the coming years. The summary paper is accompanied by documents examining individual topics in more detail. We asked our Director Simon Winter for a headline view.
Syngenta Foundation (SFSA): A new strategy sounds like lots of changes. What will Foundation employees be doing differently in the future?
Simon Winter: One major change is that we’ll aim for all our activities to help smallholder agriculture become climate smarter and more resilient. We are also making female farmers and entrepreneurs a particular focus of our work. By 2025, wherever feasible, we aim for at least 50% of program benefits to accrue to women. Overall, the Foundation will concentrate on three Strategic Outcomes, for which we’ve set initial 2025 targets. We have recently started a review of our entire portfolio to align our country-level work to the strategy. This includes a close look at our priority crops and cropping systems. As our overall Strategy Paper and the more detailed accompanying documents explain, we’ll also be strengthening our performance in other areas, such as scale-up and capacity-building.
What will you be continuing?
We’ll keep concentrating on ‘pre-commercial smallholders in selected African and Asian countries. Our work still focuses on the three sub-portfolios of Seeds, Insurance, and Agriservices, supported by R&D and Policy. Our countries of operation will stay essentially the same. We will double down on working through partnerships, especially to support scaling. And we are committed to supporting smallholder use of innovations through successful local business models.
What are the new Strategic Outcomes you’ve just mentioned?
As one would expect from SFSA, all three focus on smallholders. We want farmers to access and use the tools they need, cope well with climate change, and benefit from thriving markets and market systems.
Why are you introducing a new strategy now?
SFSA ran its last major Strategic Review more than a decade ago. Since then, we’ve grown and diversified considerably. The annual Syngenta investment, external co-funding, and the numbers of partners, projects, and employees have all markedly increased. While this growth has greatly increased our impact on smallholder farming, we need to take stock of the lessons we have learned. We also note there are only nine years left to achieve the SDGs, but progress towards them is dragging, especially in smallholder communities.
And the operating environment also continues to shift...
Yes, and that is the topic of one of our accompanying in-depth papers. The changes in the operating environment offer some opportunities for smallholders. But they also include major global challenges which we must address. Climate change heads the list. Others include the growing global emphasis on diversity and inclusion, the triple burden of under-nutrition, and the critical importance of food system transformation.
The SFSA Vision is “a bright future for smallholder farming”. What does that entail?
Farming has to become an attractive profession for the next generation in Asia and Africa. Agriculture must be profitable, productive, and use modern technologies, as well as resilient both to sudden shocks and longer-term threats. Tomorrow’s smallholders will be much younger and considerably fewer in number. In a bright future, they’ll also be businesspeople: entrepreneurial, keen to learn, improve and grow their farms, and open to off-farm opportunities. Another of the accompanying papers takes a close look at “our” smallholders.
Describing its Mission, SFSA says: “To strengthen smallholder farming and food systems, we catalyze market development and delivery of innovations, while building capacity across the public and private sectors.” What does that mean in practice?
Five aspects are particularly important here. Firstly, we look beyond individual farms and businesses towards overall transformation in the way that agriculture works and is supported, at scale. We also believe that smallholders’ livelihoods can only improve sustainably in properly functioning markets. Entrepreneurship plays a central role here. Thirdly, farmers must have access to affordable, appropriate, value-adding technologies and innovations, and be able to use them productively. SFSA also wants to create a legacy of strong and capable institutions supporting agriculture and to continue to build public-private partnerships. All taken together, these efforts will help revitalize rural areas.
You’ve mentioned 2025 a couple of times. What does SFSA want to achieve by then?
Multiple benefits across four impact areas. Those areas are Poverty reduction & job creation, gender equality, youth & social inclusion, Nutrition, health & food security, and Climate security & environmental health. We’ve set top-line impact targets, based on performance so far and anticipated programs. We have quantified the first target for 2025: that we contribute to at least 20% net income increases for five million smallholder families. We’ll continue to refine this and the other target areas, and set additional ones, such as for impacts and outcomes related to female smallholders and women-led businesses.
To get more specific: Everybody’s talking about climate change. How will SFSA help smallholders deal better with climate risks?
One of our in-depth papers goes into detail here. Put very briefly: Our ambition is to combine long-term resilience and mitigation benefits with rapid economic gains for smallholders. Such gains need to come from a combination of public and private incentives, as well as progress achieved by farmers themselves.
But doesn’t climate change affect different farming systems in greatly varying ways?
It certainly does. Climate-smart, resilient agriculture requires context-specific solutions. In 2021/22, we are therefore rigorously reviewing the crops and systems on which we work, and how we help farmers adapt to improve their resilience in each setting.
How will you be doing that?
We’re following a criteria-based approach, described in another of the accompanying position papers. Put simply, it involves assessment and prioritization of the crops, value chains, and local macro-economic setting. All three pillars are important.
Another widely discussed topic in agricultural development is scale-up. Over the last 40 years, SFSA’s scaling record has been patchy. How will you do better in the future?
That, too, is the subject of an accompanying paper. Our approach to scaling continues to evolve. We identify, develop and adopt innovations that meet farmers’ needs. As just mentioned, we believe that proper markets are the best route to smallholders’ large-scale use of such innovations. The easiest way to scale is through existing market players – but only if they deliver to smallholders. Sadly, many commercial organizations don’t see low-income farmers as attractive customers. To overcome such market failures, we strengthen models for ‘last mile / ‘first-mile delivery, service, and financing.
SFSA is currently developing a systematic phased approach to scaling. Our programs will design for scale-up from the start. Where suitable scaling organizations exist, we’ll hand off early. More typically, SFSA will help establish multi-stakeholder scaling platforms or ‘Catalytic Intermediaries’, or we’ll join existing ones. The platforms will unite the necessary stakeholders to mobilize human and financial resources that SFSA cannot provide alone. They can thus tackle challenges across entire value chains and market systems. Our Policy work supports all this by strengthening the ‘enabling environment’.
Partnerships are crucial for SFSA success in all activities. What will the next few years bring in this area?
Continuity of purpose and approach. We already collaborate with a wide range of organizations. In the years ahead, we’ll keep looking for partners who want to co-invest in any or all stages of our work, from research and innovation to scale. Our 2021-2025 Partnership and Resource Mobilization approach continues to focus on SFSA as a trusted intermediary. We look forward to hearing from organizations or individuals who appreciate our strategy and would like to explore new or strengthened partnerships with us.
What should readers of the new strategy and the accompanying papers also bear in mind?
This is a Strategy, not a plan. The Strategy will be used to plan activities, globally and in our focus countries, that will enable us to achieve our new targets by 2025.