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I am a development economist with a focus on agricultural markets. In the past I’ve been doing research in smallholder agriculture in developing countries and when I collected my data from the field smallholders were always asking me the same three questions: Can you connect me to a buyer? Can you show me how to improve growing my crops? Where can I buy better seeds and inputs? As I had always been most passionate about markets that work for the poor, I decided to quit research and join Syngenta, a company selling seeds and crop protection solutions, to see what can be done to address these smallholder questions.
In 2050, our planet will have a bigger and more prosporous population of 9.6 billion people to feed. Unequal food distribution, declinding crop yield growth rates, resource degradation, and climate change have led to rising concerns over the ability of agriculture to meet this challenge.
There are three strategies to produce more food: 1) resource expansion, increasing the number of hectares used for agricultural production, 2) input intensification – using more inputs to increase the output per hectare, and 3) efficiency-led growth that reduces the amount of inputs needed to produce one unit of output. The latter is what is called total factor productivity TFP growth.
Key message: There have been past successes in saving precious resources while producing more food, but the current rate of benefits are insufficient to meet future food demand. Therefore, we must invest more in agricultural innovation that makes farmers more efficient.
Since the 1990s, TFP growth has overtaken resource expansion and input intensification, showing that the world’s farmers are producing more output while using less input. In China, every 1000$ spent on agricultural R&D lifted 9 people out of poverty. In India, the introduction of GMO cotton has led to a 20% decline in food insecurity and 30% reduction in the use of pesticides in just a decade.
Where does TFP growth come from? Technical efficiency, seeds, Precision Ag
BUTs: 1) the current rate of TFP growth is insufficient to meet future demand, 2) agricultural productivity growth is still extremly unequally distributed with Subsaharan Africa having the biggest gaps in yield, and 3) public concerns over the costs, safety and fairness of agricultural technology has led to a polarized debate about what sustainable agriculture is and is threatening license-to-operate for innovators in agriculture.
Key message: Many successes have been made in the past, but the food production industry has not addressed society’s concerns, therefore Syngenta has launched The Good Growth Plan. The GGP makes Syngenta’s contribution to addressing the food security challenge measurable and visible, but we can’t solve it alone. Therefore, we are collaborating with local and global partners from NGOs in smallholder markets, to businesses in the food value chain, to policy makers for conservation of resources.
It is Syngenta’s ambition to bring greater food security in a sustainable way by creating a step-change in productivity of small and big farmers. At Syngenta, we are developing and deploying innovation in seeds and crop protection by bringing local solutions to local problems at a global scale. The food production industry has failed in the past to communicate their contribution credibly, explain the benefits of sustainable intensive agriculture the outside world and take society’s concerns seriously. At Syngenta, we’ve changed this and launched the Good Growth Plan, which started with the question of how to measure the wastefulness of agriculture. The Good Growth Plan is expressing our growth in sustainability language. The scope of the GGP is driven by our business. The Good Growth Plan are six commitments around crop efficiency, protecting biodiversity and soil, and building rural prosperity by reaching and training smallholders in developing countries. We are publicly reporting on progress each year. Each commitment has a target and specified metrics.
Key message: We’ve published our progress data as open data and it made us more transparent, credible and trustworthy to partner with. But, we realized that our data alone doesn’t make a tangible impact in solving the food security challenge. Therefore, we started thinking about what data we would need to make farmers more efficient, help them adopt conservation practices and empower smallholder communities. We realized that there is an abundance of data growing exponentially, but it is kept in silos, closed, undiscoverable, not licensed and not well described or of low quality, and that it takes a prohibitive effort to clean it and make it useful. Therefore we are actively supporting iniatives like GODAN and the Open Data Institute with the ambition to create a data infrastructure and build ecosystems that make data available, as open as possible, and useful to generate insights, create services, and improve decision-making.
The Good Growth Plan needs to be auditable and transparent to be credible. So with our first progress report, we release more detailed, machine readable progress data as open data, using a creative commons license. This was very powerful and positively received by external stakeholders. It fast-tracks new partnership (no NDAs), and is a powerful communication tool when we can move from a polarized debate to a “what and how” debate. Transparency on what and how we measure creates trust to form new partnerships with those who share our commitment to food security. More generally, sharing this abundance of data with those who engage in it has always been important. What did we do? We’ve shared our data as open data, with researchers and farmers in the Good Growth Plan network. We’ve created individualized farm reports that benchmarks each farmers efficiency performance with the comparable farmers in the same region. Why did we do that? We always wanted to be transparent about The Good Growth Plan and allow others to track our progress. Publishing open data gave us a way to do so in a way that it is most useful to others. What was the impact? When we first published last year, we got a lot of positive feedback, especially on social media, from outside our organization and were able to engage different with the outside world, with a community that shared our goal of food security and is focused around data. I was able to share data with new partners without going through a time-consuming Non-disclosure agreement process. I’ve had people contact me to correct some errors, which improved the quality of our data. But we also got challenged by the open data community. We published our data; so what? How would our data be impactful and help achieve global food security? We got challenged to go beyond transparency to empowering sustainable innovation through data. We realized that our data is only a piece of the puzzle. In order for our data to be impactful, we need to link it to the data ecosystem in agriculture, to other data sets to generate more insights about what works in agriculture. We realized our data is measuring impact, but not having impact. So we started to think what data would be needed to meet the commitments and how? Challenges: finding data, cleaning and preparing it, etc.
Key message: The Open Data Initiative has helped us implement new data standards to improve the way we share data. Moreover, we joined GODAN to collaborate with stakeholders across the agricultural value chain, from thought to farm to fork, to identify the value in the principles of “describe, share, reuse” of data, influence mind sets and organization culture towards more open sharing, and build the data infrastructure we need to collaborate better.
To achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we also need better data for sustainable development, monitoring and accountability. Ensuring availability and accessibility of key data in open and transparent ways will accelerate sustainable innovations and technological advancements for people and planet. There are many data initiatives out there, but they are not harmonized and not necessarily open.
When collecting my farm data, I always wanted to do my research and share my findings with the farmers I interviewed. In the end, I ran out of funds and time and never went back. My papers were read by a few other researchers; the data I collected is not discoverable. Until today, I deeply regret this. So I am very happy that today governments, researchers and business are increasingly working together to build the infrastructure to do this differently.
The Good Growth Plan & Open Data Innovation
Zurich, 1st of April 2016
The Good Growth Plan & Open Data Innovation
Elisabeth Fischer – Head of GGP Customer Marketing
Since the 90s, the world’s farmers are growing more from less.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, derived from Food and Agriculture Organizational the
United Nations and other agricultural data using methods described in Fuglie et al. (2012).
The Good Growth Plan shows Syngenta’s contribution to
global food security.
productivity of the world’s
major crops by 20%
without using more land,
water or inputs
fertility of 10
the brink of
Strive for fair
on 5 million
Progress made since launch
13.8 million smallholders
4.7 million people
53% of seed supply chain
2014 results 2015 result2020 targets
20 million smallholders reached
20 million people trained on labor
100% of seed supply chain in
Fair Labor program
20% productivity increase
5 million hectares* of farmland
impacted through biodiversity
10 million hectares* of farmland
impacted through soil
17.2 million smallholders
10.4 million people
84% of seed supply chain
1.9% productivity increase
1.6 million hectares
2.4 million hectares
Syngenta released GGP progress data as open data on
Data downloadable as *.csv files
Use of Creative Commons
Certified by the Open Data
Provision of ontology-based
Other background information
Open data innovation to for sustainable food systems
Value Culture Technology