Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture China office
SFSA China Office and our Vision
We established our Beijing Representative Office in 2018 to facilitate sustainable agricultural development, aiming to improve the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers in China. The office was registered under the supervision of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Agriculture. Geographically, our focus is on under-developed provinces in western China. We received valuable support from Syngenta China and ChemChina at the initial set-up stage.
Based on our scoping study and smallholder needs in our target regions, we have identified several key intervention areas: upgrading skills to grow cash crops, market linkages, post-harvest & processing, soil health and water shortage, and food safety and quality.
Since 2018, SFSA has concentrated on several projects aiming to increase agricultural productivity and the quality of selected cash crops, thereby improving smallholders’ income opportunities and wellbeing. Our work in Gansu and Sichuan provinces supports the government’s initiatives for poverty alleviation and rural revitalization.
Our vision is that smallholders farm in a smart and eco-friendly way, and they get fairly treated by the market. We support smallholder farmers and entrepreneurial youth to become more professional growers by catalyzing market delivery of innovations, providing tailored training programs on best practices and know-how, and facilitating market access.
Agricultural context in China
China has the largest population but limited arable land. It feeds 21% of the world's population with only 9% of farming lands in the world. Agriculture accounted for 7.7% of its GDP (2021) and provided jobs and incomes for half of its population.
China has made remarkable achievements in the agricultural sector in the past decades and achieved ‘self-sufficiency’ in the main staples like rice and wheat. However, China’s total arable land amounts to 1.3 million square kilometers, less than 25% of the world average in per capita terms. Out of those arable land, more than two-thirds are on hills or mountains. The cultivated area has been declining because of soil degradation, water shortage, urbanization, and industrialization.
Challenges in smallholder agriculture
Firstly, most farmers cultivate small plots of land, operating an average farm size of up to 0.7 hectares. This fragmentation hinders farmers from standardizing production and therefore prevents them from gaining a premium price for standard and high-quality produce. Farmers are not effectively organized to aggregate their produce for market access. Addressing the issue of small farms, new land transfer platforms have enabled a steady rise in average farm sizes. Progress varies significantly by province, however, and has been slower in our target geographies. In addition, many smallholders do not yet have access to the market and market information, which could greatly enhance their profitability.
Secondly, as rural-urban migration continues, there is a severe labor shortage in the agricultural sector, especially lacking young people. A rapidly-aging farming population represents a threat to national food security. The average age of rural labor has excessed 56 years old. There is no sign that rural youth would like to pursue farming as their career.
Thirdly, soil degradation and water shortage are big challenges in certain regions. The soil conditions have been heavily affected by intensive farming and industrial pollution, which is concerning. Some dry regions face increasing water scarcity and climate uncertainty, leaving arable land being unirrigated or irrigated with wastewater. Water availability per capita in China is only a quarter of the world average. Moreover, some farming practices such as overuse or misuse of fertilizers and a lack of crop rotation plans harm soil health and reduce the long-term productivity of the land.
Finally, there is also an increasing disparity between rural and urban growth and incomes. Significant economic development has dramatically increased urban incomes, while at the same time most farmers in rural areas earn little income, often less than a third of the average urban income. This prevents them from investing in and modernizing their farms.
Current Programs in China
Currently, there are three active projects operating in China: