Rural economies: The basis of food security

Farmers have one of the most important jobs in society: they carry the weight of feeding the world. This isn’t easy considering the challenges they face.

Rural economies, large and small, all over the world are dealing with the same issues - shortage of natural resources, obtaining the best price for their produce, constraints on productivity, and adaptation to climate change. Though the risks they take are high, too often the return is low. Unreliable weather, pests, disease, and weeds can ruin crops and decrease incomes. Farmers must also deal with the risks of a volatile market - even with a good crop, prices may be low. As a result, more than three-quarters of poor people live in rural areas.1

Since all growers do not have the same access to resources and markets, today’s challenges affect them differently. Rural communities of the developed world have made great strides in productivity but are now facing pressure to increase yields while protecting land, water, and biodiversity.2 In developing economies, the journey to achieve sustainable increases in productivity continues but is hindered by lack of access to markets and modern technologies.

Farmers need better solutions to help make agriculture a viable and rewarding way of life. Syngenta realizes that the world’s farmers will need tailored and more integrated solutions based on their specific circumstances.

Building markets and infrastructure

Only about 34 percent of the farmers in low- and middle-income countries have access to adequate resources and markets, the basis of a successful agricultural business.3

In many parts of Africa, Asia, and South America, the nearest market is two to four hours drive from the farm. In other parts of the world, motorized transport is not even possible.

Increased infrastructure, market access and information, and creative financial solutions are necessary for sustainable increases in productivity. Investments in agricultural and rural development in these areas hold the greatest potential to reduce poverty rapidly. 4

At Syngenta, we enable farmers to invest in increasing productivity and help them compete in local and global markets. Syngenta collaborates with community partners to meet local needs and help farmers become entrepreneurs (see Syngenta Programs).

Farming businesses depend on their ability to choose solutions suited to their specific conditions. The best yields that can be obtained involve an integrated approach using better seeds, water efficient technologies, nutrients, pest and weed management, and soil conservation. Based on this, Syngenta has developed holistic training programs to help farmers boost yields and sustain their livelihoods (see Syngenta Programs). 

Protecting our natural resources

Agricultural productivity is facing a wide variety of issues - farmers are expected to grow more from less due to competition for land, water, and energy from urban populations and industry. At the same time, they are under increasing pressure to manage and protect the environment.

A sustainable production system can help famers increase productivity while reducing environmental impacts. In the same way that yields have been increased through agricultural technologies, these technologies can have a beneficial impact on water, soil, and biodiversity.

For instance, farmers can improve soil and water management through minimum tillage agriculture, which preserves the soil and helps water retention. They can adopt more restorative crops and integrated pest management systems. They will also need to use improved seeds and products that increase water efficiency and make the best use of the land.

Looking to the future, investments and partnerships will be necessary for accelerating innovation. Research will have to develop better controls for weeds, diseases, insects, and other pests. As climate changes, crop varieties better able to adapt to new stresses will also be necessary as will products which help grow sturdier plants.

Changing rural landscape

Key Facts

  • Urban populations make up 50.5 percent of the world’s population with the rate of urbanization increasing by almost 2 percent per year from 2010 to 2015.
  • Approximately 3.4 billion people, slightly under half of the world’s population, now live in rural areas 5 . This number is not expected to increase.

At one time farming was handed down from father to son without question. Today the rural landscape is changing. The younger generation is leaving the farm where life is often difficult and unrewarding and moving to cities. If farming is not made more attractive to young people, then who will feed the world?

Syngenta values farm work and views rural communities as our business partners. As with any business, farmers must have the skills to prosper. Public-private partnerships can invest in youth and adult education to assist farmers in experimenting with and learning better business skills, technologies, and agronomy to best fit their circumstances. Syngenta, for instance, created information and service centers, called Krishi Shakti, for growers in India, where farming is shifting to higher value crops and growing businesses. The growers experienced record yields of almost all their crops with high quality. Such initiatives equip farmers with the skills to lead others and share knowledge within the community.

Syngenta believes governments, NGOs and industry need to work together to make agriculture safe and sustainable, productive and competitive, so farmers can make a good living from the sale of their produce. This will require an appropriate blend of policies, regulatory frameworks, and investments to bolster the agricultural sector, enable better choices on the farm, and reduce the financial risk of investing in better productivity.

Farmers have the potential to feed the world - only if they can grow more, protect the quality of produce, and deliver it to market at fair prices.

  1. Deutsche Bank Research. Agribusiness and hunger - Threat to global food security drives collaborative business models, February 12, 2010.
  2. European Landowners Organization. Public goods from private land - why nature needs management. http://www.elo.org/UserFiles/File/documents/31383%20vision-principles.pdf
  3. Center for strategic and international studies. Agricultural Productivity in changing rural worlds. February 2010.
  4. World Bank: World Development Report 2008, op. cit; World Development Report 2005, op. cit.; and FAO: Roles of Agriculture Project (ROA) (www.fao.org/es/esa/roa/).
  5. International Labour Office, “Promotion of rural employment for poverty reduction” Conference: International Labour Conference (97th : 2008 : Geneva, Switzerland).