Syngenta CEO: Ukraine Crisis Calls for Shift Away from Organic Farming – Olive Oil Times

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The chief exec­u­tive of Syngenta, a Swiss agri­chem­i­cals giant owned by state-backed ChemChina, has asked farm­ers in wealthy coun­tries to shift away from organic pro­duc­tion and focus on sus­tain­abil­ity.
Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald told Swiss news­pa­per NZZ am Sonntag that organic farm­ing does not allow for suf­fi­cient crop yields to cope with pre­dicted food inse­cu­rity expected in parts of Africa and Asia due to the Russian inva­sion of Ukraine.
The pro­posal com­ing from the head of one of the world’s largest agri-tech and agri­chem­i­cal com­pa­nies has been met with scep­ti­cism by farm­ers in Switzerland and neigh­bor­ing Italy.
In the inter­view, Fyrwald said global food pro­duc­tion has been hin­dered in the last few years by droughts in North and South America cou­pled with the impacts of the Covid-19 pan­demic, both of which have affected sta­ple crops prices, includ­ing soy­bean and cere­als.
He added that the Russian inva­sion of Ukraine has made a com­plex sce­nario sig­nif­i­cantly worse.
Ukraine feeds 400 mil­lion peo­ple. The United Nation’s World Food Program cov­ers the need of 125 mil­lion, half of the grain comes from Ukraine, and that is now gone,” he said.
Fyrwald added that the cri­sis would likely become even more pro­found in autumn should the cur­rent block­age of food ship­ments from Ukraine con­tinue.
The Syngenta chief exec­u­tive said many devel­op­ing coun­tries and peo­ple from China, the Middle East and Africa depend on Ukraine.
Europe and the U.S. are pri­mar­ily feel­ing the effects on prices of such short­ages,” Fyrwald said. Still, they have an oblig­a­tion to pro­duce enough food to pre­vent a hunger cri­sis in poor coun­tries.”
He added genomic edit­ing and tech­nol­ogy to enhance food pro­duc­tion in wealth­ier coun­tries should be at the heart of the food agenda.
At the same time, Fyrwald said the ban on using some prod­ucts in many coun­tries is already impact­ing their abil­ity to deliver suf­fi­cient yields.
In the face of the global food secu­rity issue, Fyrwald asked the European Union to recon­sider its strat­egy to increase out­put and reduce land use with the help of the new tech­nolo­gies.
Instead, the E.U. is demand­ing its mem­bers reach an over­all organic share of pro­duc­tion equal to 25 per­cent,” he said in ref­er­ence to the European Green Deal.
Depending on the prod­uct, yields in organic farm­ing can go down up to 50 per­cent,” Fyrwald added.
The indi­rect con­se­quence is that peo­ple in Africa are starv­ing because we are eat­ing more and more organic prod­ucts.”
Nobody can seri­ously want that,” he con­tin­ued. People should be allowed to buy organic pro­duce if they want, but gov­ern­ments should con­sider how rel­e­vant of a prob­lem the yield losses are.”
According to Fyrwald, the organic food indus­try makes plenty of prof­its due to the ris­ing demand for organic food, but you can’t just ignore that lower out­put. Food is being taken away from peo­ple in Africa because we want organic pro­duce and our gov­ern­ments sup­port organic farm­ing.”
He said that organic agri­cul­ture requires larger sur­faces with the con­se­quence of increases in car­bon diox­ide pro­duc­tion due to the need to plough those fields.
Fyrwald added that most organic pro­duc­ers use pes­ti­cides on a large scale,” with mod­est results com­pared to the con­ven­tional phy­tosan­i­tary prod­ucts.
He also noted how cop­per is heav­ily used in organic farm­ing because it is nat­ural,” and that hap­pens even if it is a heavy metal which accord­ing to the E.U.” has no safe use.
As expected, Fyrwald’s inter­view is being crit­i­cized by many in the farm­ing sec­tor.
Kilian Baumann, an organic farmer and pres­i­dent of the Swiss Small Farmers’ Association, called the Syngenta chief executive’s pro­posal grotesque.”
He added how farm­ers are engaged in reduc­ing the use of pes­ti­cides and coun­ters that it is not organic farm­ing but our hunger for meat that pro­motes greater use of land. Animal feed is grown on 43 per­cent of Swiss arable land, and we still import 1.2 mil­lion tons a year.”
Strong reac­tions to Fyrwald are also mount­ing in Italy, the sec­ond-largest organic food pro­ducer after the U.S.
According to Coldiretti, a farm­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion, which crit­i­cized the inter­view as an attack on organic pro­duc­tion,” Italy is home to 70,000 ded­i­cated organic farms and more than two mil­lion organ­i­cally-cul­ti­vated hectares.
Ettore Prandini, the organization’s pres­i­dent, coun­tered that increas­ing yields must be obtained by sav­ing com­pa­nies and barns.”
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), organic farm­ing is instru­men­tal in mak­ing the global agri­cul­tural sec­tor more sus­tain­able.
Organic agri­cul­ture con­sid­ers the medium- and long-term effect of agri­cul­tural inter­ven­tions on the agro-ecosys­tem,” the FAO said.
It aims to pro­duce food while estab­lish­ing an eco­log­i­cal bal­ance to pre­vent soil fer­til­ity or pest prob­lems,” the orga­ni­za­tion con­cluded. Organic agri­cul­ture takes a proac­tive approach as opposed to treat­ing prob­lems after they emerge.”
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