Last year, AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina presented a goal – Africa should aim for agriculture without borders. He wants technology to lead that drive, to reach millions of farmers across agri-ecological zones. ‘And why not?’ he asked the audience at the 94th US Department of Agriculture Outlook Forum.
‘Take the case of the invasive army worms devastating cereals in many parts of Africa. Pests, after all, don’t need visas to wreak havoc across borders. In the same way, technologies to tackle them and to transform agriculture should be without borders.’
This is precisely what one of the world’s top five agricultural solutions companies, UPL, has been working towards with its integrated portfolio of patented and post-patent solutions for various row crops and speciality crops. It also offers crop protection chemicals, biosolutions and seed treatments to cover the entire crop value chain, including water and soil treatments and the removal of alien plant life.
Bertha Spangenberg of the South African arm of UPL – formerly Arysta Lifestyle – says that since its inception 50 years ago, UPL has been driving ‘no limits, no borders’ through an open agricultural network that feeds sustainable growth for all. ‘Agriculture does not have to be a hard-wired linear value chain but rather an agile, fluid network of relationships and interplays that leapfrog traditional boundaries and jump straight into new opportunities. This is a scenario where connections are more personal, solutions more personalised, where there is more choice, faster access, and greater value so that sustainability is entrenched.’
OpenAg is how UPL is taking its technology to market. It’s the company’s ‘purpose’, says Spangenberg, and stands for open-minded and win-win partnerships that broaden the space to create value along a wider food production network. This responds to Adesina’s entreaty, because not only do farmers need technologies to help them be more resilient and respond to climate change, but also to consolidate and create a collective across not just neighbouring borders, but global ones too.
‘This is driven by the need to secure the world’s food supply,’ says Spangenberg. ‘Farmers will be depending on technologies to help them become more resilient against challenges. We have a portfolio of technologies in the field from crop protection to innovative hybrid platforms. In stressing the need for more “bio”, our combined biosolutions pipeline presents an integrated pest and nutrition management programme that emphasises sustainability.’
UPL has already received unconditional regulatory approvals from authorities across the globe for its technologies, which is inspiring, particularly for Africa as it seeks, under the Technologies for African Agriculture Transformation programme, to change policy and regulatory environments to span agro-ecological zones rather than tediously going through that process country by country.
With a footprint in 76 countries and sales in more than 130, including 27 formulation and 48 manufacturing facilities, UPL is well grounded on the continent, extending across West, Central, East and Southern Africa, with its manufacturing plant in Durban, South Africa. ‘This spread has compelling value for growers, distributors, suppliers and innovation partners, whose combined knowledge and skills can inform regional markets, and help address the challenge of food shortages in Africa,’ according to Spangenberg.
‘The demand on individual farmers to produce better quality and higher yields to meet food needs in a sustainable manner is intense on the continent. One of the ways we address this issue is through our programme ProNutiva, which takes a whole-system approach beyond conventional crop protection.’
ProNutiva is revolutionary in that it integrates natural biosolutions, which in turn comprise bioprotection, biostimulants and bionutrition, with usual agricultural practices, but sustainably so. It covers plant needs throughout the season, or at a specific development stage of the crop. The result is improved grower economics and easy adaptation to evolving food chain requirements.
UPL’s combined arable and speciality crop product portfolio has some 13 000 registrations, a prudent mix of its own manufacture and outsourced supply. While no agricultural chemical company can claim that its products are 100 % natural, UPL minimises any negatives around agri-chemicals with the adoption of a sustainability plan.
‘This plan is driven to ensure at least a 30% reduction in the company’s environmental footprint by 2020,’ says Spangenberg. ‘The majority of our sites are ISO 9001-certified and include ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 accreditations. Effective safety measures are also applied across all aspects of operation guided by a continuous improvement focus.’
Such a focus on safety also plays out through a stewardship programme in parts of Africa, for instance Zambia and Lesotho, where UPL provides small-scale farmers with education and training on the correct usage of chemicals. ‘Servicing our customers, be those the small-scale farmers, the smaller retail stores that stock our products, or our distribution dealership network, is handled by UPL field agents whose responsibility it is to also forecast stock requirements and launch new products.
‘Training and the introduction of new products is crucial in Africa, whose farmers are largely in far-flung places, and therefore unable to leave their agri-business for long periods of time in order to stay abreast of advances in the industry. We take much-needed knowledge and advisory services to them at a local level to ensure they have the right crop-health expertise for each critical stage in a crop’s growth process.’
UPL has also recently reached an agreement with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to work jointly in strengthening the farming ecosystem, including last-mile service delivery. ‘We will be supporting farmers through village-based adviser models and demo plots, facilitate technology adaptation, and introduce financial solutions for smallholder farms.’
The first nations to be exposed to this plan include Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire.
Spangenberg emphasises that the UPL mission is to change the agri game; to make every single food product more sustainable. ‘We open possibility and shape the future in an interactive and synergistic way. Agriculture with no borders equals growth for all.’