The boss of agrochemical Syngenta has denounced organic farming and called for opting for higher yielding agriculture in the face of the risk of food shortages with the war in Ukraine, rekindling the controversy around sustainable agriculture and pesticides in Switzerland .
In an interview published Sunday in the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Erik Fyrwald, its director general, drew up a long list of the pitfalls, according to him, of organic farming, citing in particular its lower yields even though the invasion of Ukraine, considered the breadbasket of Europe, raises serious concerns for food supply.
“Yields from organic farming can be up to 50% lower depending on the products“, highlighted the boss of this giant of agricultural products which sells fertilizers and seeds.
These remarks aroused strong reactions among supporters of organic farming in Switzerland.
In a tweet, Greens MP Kilian Baumann, himself an organic farmer, called the arguments “grotesque“, believing that Syngenta only does “defend your business” because “we farmers are always using less pesticides“.
Based in Basel, this phytosanitary products giant was acquired in 2017 by the Chinese ChemChina after having firmly rejected several offers from its American competitor Monsanto.
Among the pitfalls of organic farming, this American boss, at the helm of Syngenta since 2016, also said that it requires larger cultivable areas. In addition, the fields generally have to be plowed for this type of agriculture, which “increases CO2 emissions“, he said in the columns of the Zurich newspaper.
“The indirect consequence is that people go hungry in Africa while we eat more and more organic products.“, he declared, while the danger “of a global food crisis” is “big“.
“Even before the war, corn, soy and grain prices had risen due to Covid-19 and extreme weather“, he argued, while pointing out that 400 million people in the world depend on Ukrainian wheat.
In this context, he pleads in favor of so-called agriculture “regenerative“, halfway between conventional and organic farming. It incorporates the principles of crop rotation used in organic farming while combining the use of “targeted“of pesticides, he defended.
And the meat?
Kilian Baumann, the Green MP who is also president of the Association of Small Farmers, further questioned the use of arable land, with “meat hunger“, claiming that 43% of the arable land in Switzerland is used for the production of fodder.
According to this association, this crisis should on the contrary favor organic farming. “It is clearly more independent of imported fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Organic farming follows a much more closed circuit logic and therefore has greater resistance to crises.“, she said in an email to AFP.
According to Carla Hoinkes, head of agriculture and food at Public Eye, a Swiss NGO very critical of pesticides and Syngenta, “agribusiness is instrumentalizing this crisis for its own interests“, she told AFP.
“This food crisis is a serious problem“, bound according to her “to the food production system” “highly dependent on fertilizers” and “crop concentration” in a limited number of countries.
According to her, this crisis must on the contrary be an opportunity to rethink agricultural production, including the production of biofuels and food waste.
“We will have to think about how we transform our food systems to be more independent“, she believes, judging that it will be necessary to further anchor production at the local level, which also supposes “preserve soils, biodiversity and pollinators“.
very sensitive subject
Organic farming is a very sensitive subject in Switzerland, with this major supplier of phytosanitary products on the one hand and fierce opponents of pesticides on the other.
Last year, two votes of popular initiative, one on the prohibition of synthetic pesticides, the other on the prohibition of subsidies to farms using pesticides but also antibiotics to preserve water quality drinkable, had been submitted to the people after having each collected more than 100,000 signatures but had finally been rejected.