In India, average landholding declined from 2.3 hectares in the 70s to 1.32 hectares in 2000-01. If this rate continues, average landholding will fall to 0.68 hectares by 2020 and a mere 0.32 hectares by 2030. Currently 86 per cent of Indian farmers, accounting for 44 per cent of the country's farmland, hold less than two hectares; their contribution to farm output exceeds 50 per cent. Small landholders offer huge potential for productivity enhancement. But for this, a combination of chemicals and integrated solutions is vital, says Davor Pisk, chief operating officer, Switzerland-based Syngenta International AG, in an interview with Dilip Kumar Jha. Edited excerpts:
Owing to concern about a fall in consumption, agrochemical producers are diversifying towards hybrid seeds. What is Syngenta's strategy?
The future is about moving away from the 'single-product paradigm' to integrated solutions, which will tackle these problems differently. This will provide more comprehensive answers to the problems the farmer confronts today. It will make farm management easier, cheaper and cleaner. Through our integrated strategy, announced in 2011, we began to build on the combined strengths of our crop protection and seeds businesses and started developing fully integrated offers on a global crop basis. The seed segment is our future growth area.
With the introduction of many flood- and heat-trait seeds and the focus on organic farming, do you foresee a decline in agrochemical demand?
With a population of about 1.2 billion, India requires a robust, modernised agriculture sector to ensure food security. The scope for increasing cultivable land is limited. To meet the food grain requirements of the nation, agricultural productivity and its growth has to be sustained and improved. Judicious use of agrochemicals is very important for the sustained growth of the Indian agriculture and economy. We need all available agricultural technologies, including biotechnology, to meet the current and projected global demand for food, feed, fibre and biofuels.
Organic agriculture is favoured due to consumer preferences. But it alone cannot offer a solution to address productivity and sustainability challenges and provide food to an extra three billion people.
India has allowed field trials of 11 varieties of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Is GM the future of agriculture growth, especially when many European countries haven't allowed GM crops?
India's decision to allow field trials of 11 varieties of GM crops is welcome, as it paves the way for a much-needed push to research and development in the agri biotech sector. This move by the Ministry of Environment & Forests comes at an opportune time.
Agricultural biotechnology can improve productivity, secure yields and improve the quality of crops, while minimising the impact on the environment. If India is to feed an estimated 1.7 billion people by 2050, GM and other technology options should be available to farmers. Discovery and development of genes are important to develop agricultural traits useful for farmers---herbicide tolerance, insect and disease resistance and water- and nutrient-use efficiency. These can be useful for farmers who cultivate 100 million hectares of rain-fed land and are losing 20 million hectares to soil salinity.
What are Syngenta’s future plans for India?
Our recently launched ‘good growth plan’ is particularly relevant to India, as agriculture is the mainstay of the country’s economy and provides employment to more than half its population. Farmers will have to grow crops more efficiently, conserve existing land, improve biodiversity and integrate the vast multitude of smallholders currently holding less than two hectares each into the mainstream. Per-hectare productivity in South Asia is low compared to other regions. A total of 98 per cent of the available agricultural land is already under cultivation and more than 80 per cent of the rise in production will have to come from yield increases. For ensuring nutritional security, it is not only important to increase per-capita availability of food grain, but also to ensure the right amount of food items in the common man's food basket. In India we will improve productivity of key crops such as rice, wheat, cotton, corn, tomato, potato and soybean 20 per cent.
Which are Syngenta's strong areas in India? How do you plan to fight competition?
We are setting up 44 reference farms across India. These will focus on rice, wheat, cotton, corn, tomato, potato and soybean across 15 states. Also, new technologies for crops such as cotton, soya, rice and vegetables are on the cards. We are innovating and developing the seed side. We have received a number of new registrations for products in the chemicals segment, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, covering key crops. We feel the combination of our seeds portfolio, new chemicals and our unique integrated offer in Tegra, which helps overcome some labour shortage issues in transplanted rice, will help drive significant growth in our business in the coming years.