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(C) Wolf G Kroner 2010 - Sandro AruffoSandro Aruffo's Syngenta Legacy

February 2013. During the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) Mike Mack, Syngenta’s CEO discussed with his peers the “New Vision for Agriculture” 1). He started this WEF initiative in 2009. Robert Berendes, Head of Business Development and in charge of R&D since 2012, is one of the architects. Since its beginnings the central issue for Syngenta and those it intends to win for its network has remained the same: How to feed the world while creating better business. The solutions to solve this general issue have also remained stable during the last four years albeit with differing emphasis. It needs products (e.g. seeds, fertilisers). It needs water. Or, it needs investments, the solution focused on at Davos in 2013. Despite broad consensus over the issue and its solutions, the problems they generate are far from clear. Thus, Syngenta is currently experimenting as others do public-private partnerships in several of its emerging markets seeking very practical questions to a fundamental insight: You might have wonderful products potentially saving the world, but they utterly fail, if they do not meet multiple needs of farmers, middlemen, retailers, scientists, government politicians, or last not least consumers. How can you address the problem of heterogeneous interests, of value chains which do not fit together, or of jurisdictions with opposite legal frameworks?

Genetically-modified (GM) products for agriculture have been highly controversial even in those countries where they are widely used. Today, science has been politicised. For outsiders it often is not discernible, if a stakeholder (including academia) argues from a scientific position or a political one dressed up as “scientific”. Debates about GM organisms typically end up in irreconcilable differences (e.g. Grant 2), Séralini et al. 3)). Quite right Nobel Prize winner Prof. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard 4) is warning of solutions reducing complexity to a vote of “Yes” or “No”. Syngenta is interesting in this regard. GM seeds provide a major revenue stream for the company as they do for Bayer (CropScience), Dupont (Pioneer Hi-Bred), or Monsanto. By contrast Monsanto is focusing exclusively on biotechnology and has licenced out its germplasm and biotechnology traits to most of its seed competitors. But it has divested agrichemicals which for example Syngenta retains and even invests in research. Moreover, the Swiss company holds on to manufacturing and distributing products for organic horticulture (e.g. Wuxal) until today. Is it a simple business issue? Is this a strategic contradiction?

In February 2010 Robert Berendes, Syngenta's Head of Business, and Sandro Aruffo, Head of Research and Development met with Wolf Kroner, Editor in Chief of B2Bioworld to discuss these questions. They talk to each other, differ in opinion, agree on common grounds to be confronted with further probing questions. Finally each provides his answer off the beaten tracks of political correct company statements. Today the conversation with B2Bioworld is published exclusively for readers of B2Bioworld and for the first time.

Dr Alejandro Aruffo has passed end of January (see Obituary ). His legacy is surviving his untimely death. As an outsider to the fields of plant biotechnology, agrichemicals and farm production he brought to Syngenta a deep knowledge of metabolic systems, how bioactive molecules and nutrition impact animal or human health. While Syngenta's customers are farmers, their agricultural products have to feed the world. There is no sustainable profitability of a business without this understanding of whom you have to satisfy at the end of the day.

Footnotes
(1) World Economic Forum (2012): Putting the New Vision for Agriculture into Action: Transformation Is Happening.Genève: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_FB_NewVisionAgriculture_HappeningTransforma-tion_Report_2012.pdf.

(2) Grant H (2006): ”What is” instead of ”What if”. Interview Wolf G Kroner with Monsanto’s CEO. Bioworld Europe. October.

(3) Séralini G-E, Mesnage R, Defarge N, Gress S, Hennequin D, Claire E, Malatesta M, Spiroux de Vendômois J (2012): Answers to critics: Why there is a long term toxicity due to a Rounduptolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide. Food and Chemical Toxicology.November. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2012.11.007/ http://gmoseralini.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Seralinial-AnswersCritics-FCT_2013.pdf.

(4) Nüsslein-Volhard C (2011): Plant Genetic Engineering: ”It’s not as simple as Yes or No !” November, B2Bioworld: http://www.b2bioworld.com//index.php/technologies_reader/items/448.html.

 

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