At PMA Fresh Connections Southern Africa, held in Pretoria, South Africa, Martin Kodde, head of Food Chain Engagement at Syngenta, outlined how his company is working to understand the concerns of its customers; “customers who are all growers,” stressed Martin.

“The first challenge is compliance with the regulations, as both import and export companies expect high standards, with the added challenge of certifications; secondly, profitability, as we have to ensure that everyone involved in the production chain obtains its share; lastly, sustainability, which is all about efficiency in resource and environmental management; issues that are easier to identify than they are to solve, to which end accepting innovation is a necessary step.”

According to Mr Kodde, “a successful value chain is one that creates value from farm to fork; it is about efficiency in the supply chain; about understanding consumer needs, and this is something individuals cannot do on their own, as everyone in the value chain has a role to play.”

In order to identify these needs, Syngenta makes use of consumer surveys. “In the one conducted two years ago, which reached 1,800 vegetable consumers, we found that 10% of them could be considered “adventurous eaters”; these are the ones who will buy new products and show them to their friends,” explains Martin.

Meanwhile, 33% fell under “value for money eaters”, the most conservative ones; “convenience eaters”, those who spend little time preparing food, reached 25%; lastly, “involved eaters”, for whom sustainability is the key and regularly buy organic products, accounted for 32%.”

“How does this translate into our activities? In the case of tomatoes, for example, we can look at characteristics such as vitamin content, flavour, shelf life and texture and adapt the breeding programmes to match consumer preferences, while at the same time ensuring that they are built resistant to diseases; a highly complex process which relies on careful gene identification.”

When it comes to growers’ side, sustainability has become the key issue; aspects such as ethical production, food safety, water and soil management and the reduction of waste to ensure a good future for the coming generations, while keeping an eye on the financial side.

“To help growers in this, we have developed practical tools that assist them in the implementation of sustainable practices, such as the Operation Pollinator, an international biodiversity program designed to boost the number of pollinating insects on commercial farms by creating specific habitats, tailored to local conditions and native insects, which has already resulted in increased productivity,” assures Mr Kodde.

“In Europe, we have also developed operational farms where we show how sustainability works by showcasing, among other things, how beneficials and biological control work and we also have residue management programmes in place. All serves to meet Syngenta’s goal, which is to ensure our growers are able to meet all private standards while minimising risks in the food chain.”