21 Growing Together, transforming agricultural value chains in Bangladesh

Combining company and development expertise for greater community impact

Organizers

  • Syngenta
  • Voluntary Service Overseas

Abstract

VSO, an international development organization, and Syngenta, a global agribusiness, are working together to create resilient and thriving smallholder farming communities in Bangladesh. The resulting project Growing Together has piloted and successfully demonstrated an agronomic and market systems approach which has tripled net farmer income for 7,000 farmers through a network of Farmer Centers. Now in its third year, Growing Together intends to scale the Farmer Center model through an innovative social franchise. This has the potential to reach 100,000 farmers over the coming two to three years and to scale further through its franchised network of farmer centres and agri-entrepreneurs. This approach has introduced innovations in thinking of value chains; encouraging a nested view of value chains in which companies realise a vested interest in supporting the health of farming communiti

Key speakers/presenters

  • Ann Tutwiler, Director General, Bioversity International
  • Juan Gonzalez-Valero, Head of Sustainability and Policy, Syngenta
  • Simon Brown, Country Director, VSO Bangladesh

Summary

During this session, VSO International and Syngenta discussed their experiences from three years of program co-creation, including the program’s nested view of value chains, in which companies have a vested interest in the success of farming communities. They also stressed the power of cross-sectoral partnerships with Bank Asia and Blue Number. Finally, they presented Growing Together’s approach to scalability and expansion.    

Bangladeshi smallholder farmer Md. Shamsal Islam shared via video how the project has helped him and his community to improve incomes and to see a brighter future in farming.

Bangladesh is a country that has over 15 million farmers, 8 million of whom have farmer-run businesses. Bangladeshi farmers face many challenges, including the adverse effects of climate change, limited land availability, and poor access to markets. Growing Together is a program co-created by VSO and Syngenta to improve the livelihoods of 10,000 smallholder farmers in Bangladesh. Each year, two teams of 15 senior Syngenta employees travel to Bangladesh for four weeks to share their expertise, while VSO and local partner organizations provide long-term continuous support.

Many Bangladeshi farmers’ only financing option came through black market providers, whose interests rate can exceed 50%. It is therefore essential for them to find a new option that frees them from cycles of debt and price-dumping. Growing Together addresses this problem by offering lower-interest credit, which has the impact of allowing farmers to strategically sell their products at the best possible prices.

In addition to financing, Growing Together provides a platform for agronomic training for smallholder farmers in conjunction with local experts. Farmer centres are created in communities to provide farmers with access to quality inputs, resources, and training. Trainings involve improving their knowledge of sustainable and profitable farming, as well as equipping them with leadership, marketing, and development skills. Growing Together is delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 15: “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and half biodiversity loss.”

Going forward, there is a need to encourage more businesses, investors, and governments to value and engage with rural farming communities. Farming communities are a high-impact context in which to implement whole-market-system relationships. The Growing Together project highlights the potential returns of coordinated investment: projects created and implemented by groups of uniquely skilled actors create better access to resources than projects undertaken by individual entities with singular strengths.

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • Growing Together is working to achieve the SDGs, specifically Goal 15.
  • There is a need for increased investment and access to context-appropriate financing options for rural communities.
  • When rural communities receive tailored trainings, smallholder farmers increase their profits and improve their sustainable farming practices.
  • Partnerships that capitalize on the unique strengths and knowledge of different organizations produce better results than those executed in isolation.
Side Event - 21 - Growing Together, transforming agricultural value chains in Bangladesh