Global agriculture firm Syngenta fights climate change

Fredrick Otieno

Syngenta East Africa MD Fredrick Otieno.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Global agriculture firm Syngenta has launched a Crop Protection Development Knowledge Centre in Kiambu County, the first of its kind in Kenya, to help farmers cope with climate change. Syngenta Business Area Head and Managing Director East Africa Fredrick Otieno spoke to Nation.Africa.

Why set up the crop development centre in Kenya?

This centre will test technology under local conditions where farmers can see real-life examples of the best agricultural practices and adopt new knowledge. They will then become more resilient and counter the increasing climatic challenges facing them like like armyworms, locusts and tuta absoluta – the insect pest that destroys tomato plants and fruits.

The centre will offer coping mechanisms like farmers changing crop patterns, growing new crops and adopting technology that will help them get more yields and profit.

Does Syngenta plan to open more centres?

We are working with the University of Eldoret to open a second centre that will serve farmers in the North Rift. This is in line with our objective of taking services close to the people. As an international agriculture technology company with world-class solutions, the centre also wants to encourage the use of the latest agriculture technology locally.

We will definitely open more centres and work with the devolved and national governments, researchers and other stakeholders. We will add more knowledge to the centre to help farmers get the best outcome and double their yields.

Will farmers pay anything to get to the centre?

Farmers will access our centre free of charge as we are a business that focuses on creating solutions. We also organise training for farmers’ groups at no cost.

How will the centre work with young people in knowledge transfer?

Having many young people venture into farming is a challenge we are addressing with other stakeholders. This centre welcomes the youth. We are ready to partner with Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutions to incorporate youth into our training programmes. That will will help young people venture into farming and agribusiness.

What cutting-edge technology will this centre offer to help farmers grow safe and nutritious food?

Syngenta has developed high-quality hybrid seeds for vegetables and field crops. By using such seeds, farmers get high yields. We also have technology on seed care, crop protection, management of diseases, types of sprayers and when to use them.

The centre has a modern laboratory where farmers can bring their diseased crops to be examined in real time.

Many smallholder farmers lack knowledge to boost production. How has Syngenta helped them overcome this problem?

We continuously train farmers and help them understand how to manage their crops through the latest agricultural practices and technology.

We have an elaborate crop programme in which farmers are given advice on every stage of the crop. We do it virtually through our social media platforms. We have trained more than 350,000 farmers across Kenya to date.

Crop protection is one of the main challenges smallholder farmers face. Does Syngenta have sustainable solutions?

We are working hard to give farmers solutions on low spray rates. The solutions should also fit well in a farmer’s programme. From the little money a farmer has, he or she can use it in land preparation and spraying.

The value the farmer gets is better compared to sticking with the traditional and obsolete solutions.

We also train farmers to use the products properly. This ensures crops are well-managed, irrespective of climatic conditions.

Land degradation is also a headache. How can smallholder farmers deal with this?

It is not just a threat to farmers but to the country’s food security as well. The problem is as a result of years of monocropping by smallholder farmers.

We are working with farmers and teaching them to rotate their crops. We also focus on soil and biodiversity. We show farmers the products that do not kill insects in the soil.

What are some of the initiatives Syngenta has come up with to protect crops?

The solutions we offer are tried and tested. At the centre we have opened in Kiambu, farmers will learn the correct spray programmes. These will help them not use the pesticides in a way that will make the insects develop resistance to chemicals, thus guaranteeing healthy crops that will grow to maturity.

Seed technology is important in making farming safe. How does Syngenta ensure the seeds are good for use?

We lead in technology that protects seeds from pests and diseases. Syngenta gives the seeds critical protection in the early stages of life. We ensure they maintain vigour. We work with companies that use our technology to offer unique seed protection methods. The company also works with cooperatives in rice belts of Kirinyaga and Western Kenya, providing technology to protect the seeds.

What is the danger of using cheap and uncertified farming inputs?

This automatically affects harvest and compromises the quality of food.

It also affects soil health and biodiversity.

How is Syngenta driving growth through local investment in agriculture?

This centre sharpens local knowledge and helps farmers produce high-quality produce that can fetch good prices.

This drives the local investment portfolio through value-addition, which in turn create job opportunities and spur the country’s economic growth.