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Improving Smallholder Farmer Data in Zambia and Zimbabwe with Syngenta and 6th Grain’s New Pilot Project

March 30, 2021


Smallholder farmers are an integral part of the agricultural value chain, with over 500 million smallholder farms located worldwide. In Sub Saharan Africa, 80 per cent of all food produced comes from smallholder farms [1], and these farmers have a critical lack of access to the necessary inputs, financial support, and sustainable agronomy practices. Developed in partnership with 6thGrain, the Sustainable Smallholder Business Intelligence Engine is the pilot project of Syngenta Crop Protection in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The goal of this pilot is to prove the hypothesis that sustainability farm data collection and training can be combined with commercial insights. Success for the pilot is identifying what is missing for several thousand smallholder farmers in Zambia and Zimbabwe to improve their farm production and livelihood.


Syngenta’s Mission

For Syngenta, empowering smallholder farmers is at the core of the group’s Good Growth Plan mission [2]. During the 2020-2021 maize crop season, the pilot project centers on identifying and surveying 2,000 smallholder farmers in Zambia and 2,000 smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. The two countries were chosen due to a strong pre-existing Syngenta commercial presence and interest in engaging with small commercial farmers in a more cost-effective way while receiving sustainability insights to understand where to focus in the future.

“The key question here is how we can serve smallholder farmers more effectively,” says Mario Kunz, Smallholder Digital Solutions Lead, Syngenta Crop Protection AG.

By establishing a database and the ability to get farmer data almost real-time during the season at key crop stages, we can clarify what the smallholder farmers are missing to be successful. Identifying insufficient crop inputs, financial support, or agronomy support for these farmers is at the heart of the project. Data collected by the project provides valuable commercial insight and allows for a better understanding of farmer purchasing decisions, which improves supply chain visibility of  farmers’ needs.

Information Scarcity

Improving the quality of farmer-specific data is a focus for Syngenta Crop Protection. Prior to the start of this pilot project, existing farmer-specific data included information from only about 270 smallholder farmers as part of the Good Growth Plan.  

“Our visibility ends at the distributor/retailer level. Which is part of the problem as there might be a geographical area with lots of potential, which is underserved because we were not aware of the demand”, explains Mario.

This near real-time in-season data enables focused insights on sustainability commitments and clarify where to look for potential gaps.  

6th Grain provided the project with an Android mobile app loaded with the smallholder farmer survey questions of Syngenta, the hiring of survey personnel to conduct interviews with farmers, and an analytical software platform for visualizing and analyzing the collected data. Depending on the project’s success in Zambia and Zimbabwe, 6th Grain and Syngenta will extend the survey into Kenya.

Syngenta is collaborating with organizations like the FAO to prioritize data ethics principles in the implementation of the data collection process.  

6th Grain Technology for Small Farmers

6th Grain’s technological platform provides near real-time smallholder data during the crop growing season, a significant advancement from the more commonly available historical data. Old farmer data can be inaccurate at best and obsolete at worse, wasting company resources and time.  

Digital technology is helping pave the way for increasingly efficient agriculture. With the threat of food shortages on the rise, it is paramount that the driving food producers – the smallholder farmers – are provided with the support and resources required to alleviate these shortages and comfortably feed Sub Saharan Africa. The Sustainable Smallholder Business Intelligence Engine pilot project in Zambia and Zimbabwe is a great step in better understanding the needs of these crucial smallholder farmers.  

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