In 2016 the number of undernourished people in the world increased after a decade of continued decline: from 926 million in 2005 to 777 million in 2015 and 815 million in 2016 . This recent increase is cause for great concern and points to an uptick in food insecurity that goes hand in hand with climate change. The dramatic change in the world’s climate is translating into more extreme and frequent weather events, heat waves, droughts and sea-level rise which have a negative impact on agriculture worldwide. The implications for food security are straight-forward: more unstable agricultural output means less capacity to feed a growing population. By 2050, there will be 2.4 billion more people living in our planet . How to produce enough food for all while not damaging the environment is one of the biggest challenges to be urgently addressed in the coming years.
At the crucible of this question is Syngenta, one of the world’s largest producers of agrochemicals and seeds. Syngenta sees itself as the business that helps humanity close the gap between food need and agricultural insecurity through first class R&D (they invest around $1.3 billion per year ) and innovative crop solutions. Climate change and resulting food insecurity present both opportunities and challenges for Syngenta. On the one hand, the company will benefit from this massive challenge if it is able to create products for farmers and growers that increase agriculture yield and output while using the same (or less) amount of land, water and inputs. On the other hand, producing more with less seems like an oxymoron in today’s world and the company must also do so while having a sustainable supply chain and operations.
Syngenta is making progress in its mission – enabling farmers and growers to feed the world in a sustainable way – through The Good Growth Plan  which was presented in September 2013. This plan is composed of six commitments to be achieved by 2020 (outlined in the following table: Syngenta The Good Growth Plan 2020 Commitments ).
Each of the six commitments is being tracked on an annual basis against the 2020 goals and each of them has had different levels of success so far. An example among many others of how these commitments are being implemented in practical terms is the INTEGRASOJA product in Latin America, which is an integrated solution that includes not only the agrochemical products to increase yield in soy farms, but also water and soil nutrition management services that ensure more sustainable use of land.
In addition to the short / mid-term sustainability objectives institutionalized through the Good Growth Plan, Syngenta is also working towards its mission and strategy of providing a sustainable solution to food insecurity by committing to sustainable operations and supply chain management. This is articulated through five focus areas:
- Supplier impacts
- CO2 from distribution
With the three first focus areas the company is looking to use resources more efficiently in its 107 global production sites; the two other areas relate to the way Syngenta works with suppliers of raw materials (chemical companies mostly) and logistics service providers. While these are exactly the right key areas to look into in terms of efficiently managing operations and having a positive impact up and down the value chain, Syngenta does not publish its goals for each of these focus areas and only publishes performance data for the usage of the first three resources. The company seems to be much less stringent on, and therefore much less committed to, its sustainable operations goals. Similar to what they have done for The Good Growth Plan, Syngenta’s management should commit to “The Sustainable Operations Plan” and publicly explain the exact initiatives that fall into the five focus areas mentioned above as well as track their progress versus objectives. This would also put suppliers in the spotlight and pressure them to implement sustainable practices in a much more public and forceful way. By also impacting the supply chain upwards, Syngenta could potentially lead a positive transformation of the chemical industry overall, which accounts for approximately 20% of the global industrial sector energy consumption .
Syngenta is spearheading the effort to bridge the food scarcity – agricultural output gap. However, their innovations are controversial for those who argue that the use of chemicals and biotech in farming is not a sustainable solution. Another potential solution could come in the way of more digitization in the agricultural industry to better forecast supply and demand locally. I welcome suggestions on how to make digitization an efficient tool in this debate.
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 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017” (March 2017)
 World Bank, “Population Estimates and Projections” (October 2017)
 Syngenta, Annual Review 2016 (2016)
 Source: Syngenta, “The Good Growth Plan Progress Report 2016” (2016)
 Energy Information Administration, “Industrial Sector Energy Consumption” (2012)