Syngenta CEO tells Dhaka Courier more investment announcement to come in 2019
When Chinese state-run company ChemChina acquired Swiss agrochemical giant Syngenta last year, the $43 billion deal was biggest ever overseas acquisition by a Chinese firm. China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina) being China’s number one and a Fortune 500 listed chemical company chose to keep its new subsidiary’s business name intact as Syngenta. And as the company Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Erik Fyrwald, an American, oversaw the lengthy acquisition procedures. With its crop protection and seed business in Bangladesh, Syngenta International holds 60 per cent stake in Syngenta Bangladesh Limited and the state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) the remaining 40 per cent.
Erik Fyrwald was on a three-day visit to Bangladesh recently (August 6-8). He took some time off from his busy schedules to sit with Dhaka Courier one evening. And the tête-à-tête covered a whole range of issues starting from what the multinational’s acquisition means for Bangladesh to advancement of frontier science in agro-biotechnology, from making further investment to do more for the predominantly smallholding farmers in Bangladesh.
With cutting edge farm technologies under its disposal, the world’s top agrochemical company expressed its readiness to explore partnerships and knowledge sharing opportunities with suitable partners including Bangladesh. “Syngenta has the technical expertise in the most advanced agricultural technologies and would be open to explore partnerships and knowledge sharing opportunities,” Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald told Dhaka Courier. He said Syngenta will make more investment in Bangladesh and announcement will come in this regard in sometime next year.
Erik Fyrwald said, Syngenta’s goal is to produce safe, wholesome food and feed for consumers, as well as fiber and biofuels for the agricultural industry irrespective of the plant breeding method used. Without advances in modern agricultural practices, people/civil society would be limited in their capacity to produce enough and better quality food and feed for an ever-growing global population, he added. Syngenta operates state-of-the-art research and development facilities – The Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, USA and Syngenta’s Beijing Innovation Center (SBIC), a leading global genome editing programme.
“Genome editing is one of the PBIs (plant breeding innovations) that improves conventional breeding by making intentional, specific and beneficial changes in the plant genome providing the same genetic diversity, which would be available via traditional breeding but in a faster and more directed way,” explained Erik.
Bangladesh is currently at the forefront of developing and releasing the world’s first Vitamin-A enriched rice – Golden Rice. In response to a query, Erik said, “Syngenta has supported the Golden Rice project and is proud to be associated with it and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is the lead developer of the project, along with the inventors in a continuing commitment of the project.” Erik, who also serves as the Chairman of the not-for-profit Syngenta Foundation, added, “Although Syngenta has a significant interest in seeing the humanitarian benefits from this technology become reality, we have no commercial interest in Golden Rice whatsoever. Golden Rice is an exclusively humanitarian project.”
Responding to another question regarding Syngenta’s plan to set up production plants of agro-chemicals in Bangladesh, the CEO said, “Syngenta in Bangladesh has made large investments in Seed Processing Plant, Learning and Development Centre, network of crop protection and field research stations, sophisticated R & D Facilities, laboratories and seed production sites.” Erik, also a former Group Vice President of US agribusiness conglomerate, DuPont, went on to add, “Our innovation brings new products in the market and combines genetics and chemistry to create new solutions for the farmers in Bangladesh. We will continue to strengthen our capabilities to serve the farmers of Bangladesh. We have a crop protection plant at Chattagram, Seeds Processing Plant and Learning and Development Centre at Bogura, four site offices at Bogura, Jeshore, Gazipur and Chattagram.”
“In Bangladesh, we continue to support farmers by bringing the best technology to the market. We will continue delivering grower-centric offers that enables the region’s small farmers to grow more efficiently and responsibly.” Erik Fyrwald said, “Our high-quality seeds, innovative planting materials, crop protection products help farmers to improve yield, production, quality which help them keep pace with rising demands. For example our GroMore protocol for Rice which is locally called Rupa is popular among farmers in Bangladesh.” “The high yielding varieties of BRRI dhan 28, BRRI dhan 29 and BRRI dhan 49 are cultivated by following our GroMore protocol and the average yields of farmers have increased up to 30 percent when compared to conventional farmer practice,” he added.
Erik said that the Syngenta seeds, crop protection products and solutions are available across 84 thousand villages in Bangladesh. “Our 1100 Field Forces comprising of full time employees, contractual and temporary staff conduct field activities like farm family meetings, individual farm family contact and demonstrations serving 8.5 million farmers per year through various activities.”
Erik Fyrwald joined Syngenta as its CEO in June 2016. He led the company during a time of strategic change and industry consolidation including managing the company through to the successful acquisition of Syngenta by China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina). He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware and completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. Erik said, “Globally, we aim to profitably grow market share through organic growth and collaborations, and are considering targeted acquisitions. The goal is to strengthen Syngenta’s leadership position in crop protection and to become an ambitious number three in seeds.”
Syngenta CEO said, “Key drivers for the next phase of growth will be further expansion in emerging markets, the stepping up of digital agriculture offers, and ongoing investment in new technologies to increase crop yields while reducing CO2 emissions and preserving water resources.” He also added, “Digital agriculture is enabling innovative growers to run their operations more efficiently, productively and profitably while helping protect their resources including soil, water and biodiversity.” In addition, farm management systems (FMS) can generate sustainability performance reports for downstream requirements, which are increasingly in demand.
Bangladesh's farm community is largely composed of smallholders, poor with very limited financial capacity to afford pricey agro-chemical inputs. In response to a question that how do big multinationals like Syngenta overcomes such challenge, Erik said, “Syngenta has been operating in Bangladesh since the late 1960s (through our legacy Company former Ciba-Geigy, Novartis). This has been a developing and challenging market in which agriculture is dominating the economy - 70% of the country’s rural population largely depends on agriculture. Out of the 15 million farmers here, around 90% are smallholders.” He identified the main challenges faced by these smallholders as: lack of information, knowledge about modern agriculture, access to quality input, access to market, access to finance among others. “Through our exclusive retailer network, called Krishitey Syngenta, which was initiated in 2010, we are bringing technology, training and other services to smallholder farmers to help them address these challenges,” said Erik adding, “The network has currently 8,500 franchisee shops around the country. In addition to offering Syngenta products, the shops also provide agronomic advices and credit to the growers. By combining agronomic knowledge with the right use of our products, we are helping farmers to create better value for money, especially for smallholder farmers.” He went on to add, “Keeping in mind the local needs of farmers we have introduced small packs of liquid (Insecticides, Fungicides and Herbicides) in 50ml, 100ml and 500ml, and solid products in various packs of 3gm, 5gm, 10gm, 30gm,100gm, 500gm, 1000gm and 2000gm each. Our vegetable seeds viz. Tomato, Okra, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Hot Pepper, Long Bean, Coriander etc., are also available in small packs.”
Erik Fyrwald thinks the farmers today are challenged by a continuous reduction in available farm land due to industrialization and river breaching. The best opportunity for them to increase yields is through adoption of technology, said Erik. “Access to information about modern technology and training on agronomy is important. Our field force and retailers play a vital role to transfer knowledge to farmers as they have close interactions with them. To enable our field force and retailers, Syngenta set up a Learning and Development Centre in 2009 in the Bogura district to train the 1,100 Syngenta field force and 8,500 Krishetey Syngenta retailers across the country on modern agricultural technology. In this way, we help to connect farmers to modern technology and agronomy knowledge. However, the challenge is huge – there are about 15 million farmers here – so we still have a long way to go.” Through partnerships, and MoU’s with Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) Syngenta has been able to expand its reach to more farmers and improve their productivity, said Erik.