Growing together in Bangladesh

VSO and Syngenta: A partnership for sustainable development

Join Growing Together

The Growing Together project is challenging the development sector to think differently about scale and
sustainability and is looking for partners to join us on this journey.

About the partnership

In 2015, 193 world leaders adopted 17 goals to set the sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years. If these goals are achieved, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.

The private sector is a key player in helping achieve these goals.

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, whilst VSO and local partner organizations provide long-term continuous support.

Since its foundation end of 2014, the partnership has delivered significant change for thousands of smallholder farmers. Notable results include:

  • Farmers from the Mithapukur region now cropping a mix of rice, potato and vegetable recorded an average increase in net income of 50% from 2015 (average US$912 2016 versus US$613 2015) and a tripling of net income since 2014
  • Farmers participating in Growing Together have increased vegetable yields by 80% and potato yields by 50%
  • A 50% drop in pesticide use on rice and a 60% reduction in chemical fertilizer use across all crops since the start of the program due to comprehensive training.
  • Six Farmer Centers have been established, allowing farmer groups to command higher prices and provide access to machinery rental, seeds and affordable storage.

"Our partnership with VSO is proving to be very successful with measurable benefits for rural communities and our volunteering employees.’’

Juan Gonzalez Valero, Head of Public Policy and Sustainability at Syngenta

VSO and Syngenta: Working together to improve the livelihoods of 10,000 smallholder farmers in Bangladesh

The Syngenta/VSO partnership is designed to:

1. Improve livelihoods

Improving the productivity, links to market and growing household incomes of farmers in Bangladesh.

2. Improve employee engagement

Connecting employees with Syngenta’s sustainability strategy in a meaningful way.

3. Improve business insight

Syngenta and its partners better understand the needs and challenges of smallholder farmers.

Improving livelihoods

©VSO/Allison Joyce

Improving livelihoods

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, whilst VSO and local partner organizations provide long-term continuous support.

“We used to eat one meal per day, and if we were lucky, a meal with meat every three months. Now we can afford to have three meals per day and eat meat or maybe fish once a month.”
Banu Ara (first person from the left), farmer in a Growing Together community.

“We used to eat one meal per day, and if we were lucky, a meal with meat every three months. Now we can afford to have three meals per day and eat meat or maybe fish once a month.”
Banu Ara (first person from the left), farmer in a Growing Together community.

The result has been the development of a holistic community framework that aims to sustainably increase smallholder farmers’ income and foster vibrant, resilient and inclusive communities. The project framework is based on the following three pillars:
1. Community development
2. Farmer training on good agricultural practice
3. Value chain development and Farmer Centers

“Not only are communities deciding together, but also acting together. It is the fundamental change that Growing Together is making. It is creating thriving communities.”

Simon Brown, Country Director, VSO Bangladesh

1. Community development

To date, we’ve established 230 farmer groups and 45 youth groups. These meet monthly to discuss the social and agricultural issues that are affecting them.

They also own a group savings account for collective investments and to support farmers during major environmental shocks, like flooding.

Syngenta and VSO members meeting with the women farmers/entrepreneurs during the Women Day at Bodlipukur.
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Syngenta and VSO members meeting with the women farmers/entrepreneurs during the Women Day at Bodlipukur.
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Specific grants for the ultra-poor are provided to support and include them alongside ongoing group activities. Each group has at least 30% female membership.

Other achievements:

  • 91% meeting attendance rate throughout the year
  • 91% of participating women have higher confidence in modern farming practices
  • 32% of participating women say they have increased decision making power and influence within their families.

“You get a real sense of food security challenges here. If a crop fails then millions of people will be affected. Failure is not an option, so it is clear to me that the impact of this project is huge.”

Greg Gungoll, Key Account Lead, USA

2. Farmer training on good agricultural practice

A key approach of the agronomy training has been ‘learning from peers’. This requires each of the 230 farmer groups to establish a demonstration plot in which nominated lead farmers share new techniques learned from qualified field facilitator agronomists.

“I’ve learned about getting the right dose of fertilizer. Sometimes farmers are so focused on making a profit that they use too much fertilizer and pesticides, and in the process they destroy the land. We need to cultivate land in a good way – in a way that doesn’t harm people or the land.”
Abdul Latif, member of Bugra Para farmer group.
©VSO/Allison Joyce

“I’ve learned about getting the right dose of fertilizer. Sometimes farmers are so focused on making a profit that they use too much fertilizer and pesticides, and in the process they destroy the land. We need to cultivate land in a good way – in a way that doesn’t harm people or the land.”
Abdul Latif, member of Bugra Para farmer group.
©VSO/Allison Joyce

These plots enable farmers to test new techniques in a risk-free environment and to directly compare progress with their own fields.

Achievements to date:

  • 570 training events have been conducted
  • 7,000 farmers (2,240 female) have received agronomy training in rice, vegetable and potato cultivation
  • 96% of farmers report that they are now proactively practicing the new farming techniques, including correct and safe use of agro-inputs.
Transporting beans to a Growing Together Farmer Center
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Transporting beans to a Growing Together Farmer Center
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

3. Value chain development and Farmer Centers

Central to the success of the project has been the piloting of six Farmer Centers, providing physical spaces where farmers can access training, quality seeds, crop protection products, low cost credit and rent farming machinery. Centers also facilitate contracts that enable farmers to sell collectively and get a far better price for their crops.

That facilitation draws on a significant innovation in viewing value chains as nested rather than linear. This nested view encourages that inward investments into farming communities for the longer term benefit of the whole market system.

VSO's Simon Brown discusses nested vale chains at a recent Growing Together event.

Watch full video: 

It is this that then creates a very different perspective where each actor has a vested interest in the success and viability of farming and farming communities.
The following outcomes were found:

  • All participating farmers are now using services provided by the Farmer Centers
  • 65% of project farmers are engaged in national and international contract farming through the Farmer Centre aggregation service
  • Rice farmers in the Birampur district increased net incomes by an average close to 20%
  • Potato farmers in Mithapukur more than doubled their average net incomes.
Farmers unloading sacks of potatoes at the Farmer Center 
©Md Rafiqul IslamFaruki

Farmers unloading sacks of potatoes at the Farmer Center
©Md Rafiqul IslamFaruki

The project is now advancing its ambition to form a social franchise that can govern a network of Farmer Centers across Bangladesh; making this programme scalable and sustainable beyond the project funding.

Employee engagement

©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Employee Engagement

Syngenta employees have to apply their know-how in places outside their comfort zone, deal with issues that force them to think and act differently and consult with the multi-stakeholder teams responsible for implementing the program on the ground.

Syngenta and VSO members pose for a group photo withe the EphilBaha female farmers group at Birampur, Rangpur. 
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Syngenta and VSO members pose for a group photo withe the EphilBaha female farmers group at Birampur, Rangpur.
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

"I know I will use this experience to motivate colleagues and be a more effective leader.”

Rachel Postec, Regulatory Manager, Switzerland
  • 97% of participants feel that the program has improved their global perspective and similarly that they have an enhanced ability to focus on customers
  • 80% of Syngenta participants report an improved understanding of the needs of smallholders in relation to Syngenta’s business
  • 100% of participants feel that their ability to collaborate with other stakeholders has improved
  • 80% of Syngenta colleagues report that the placement has significantly helped them to connect with Syngenta’s plan for sustainable agriculture, The Good Growth Plan, designed to help farmers meet the challenge of feeding a fast-growing world population
  • 70% of Syngenta participants feel more engaged with the company and its purpose
  • 89% of line managers who responded to the survey feel that participation in the Growing Together program helped their team member improve key leadership skills.

"The realization of being able to do and achieve much more with less was truly unleashing for me.”

Amanda Scott, Integration Manager, Switzerland,

Impacting the business

©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Impact on the Syngenta business

Over 60 Syngenta leaders have participated in the Growing Together program since its inception in 2014 and cumulatively presented their experience to approximately 3,500 colleagues face-to-face.

Agriculturalist Md. Rashedul Islam (R) and Prodip Chandra (L) of the Boldipukur Farmer Center, Mithapukur, Rangpur
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Agriculturalist Md. Rashedul Islam (R) and Prodip Chandra (L) of the Boldipukur Farmer Center, Mithapukur, Rangpur
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

This has helped increase internal awareness about smallholder challenges and raised pride in the company. The insights from the field help all colleagues to connect back with customers, putting them at the center of the Syngenta operation.

Syngenta members visit Brothers Auto Rice Mills Limited at Kafrikhal, Mithapukur, Rangpur©VSO\/Abir Abdullah

Syngenta members visit Brothers Auto Rice Mills Limited at Kafrikhal, Mithapukur, Rangpur

©VSO/Abir Abdullah

Get involved

Through two years of learning and adaption, Growing Together has developed a viable Farmer Center model that we are now looking to replicate though an
innovative social franchise; challenging the development sector to think differently about scale
and sustainability.

There are still many challenges ahead so we are looking for new partners to share their expertise and/ or finance the next phase to help us bring this support to millions of smallholder farmers.

If you are interested in partnering with us, we'd love to hear from you.

Contact Zoe Ives, private sector engagement manager:

  • Phone: +44 [0]20 8780 7517
  • Email: zoe.ives@vsoint.org
  • Skype: zoeives
Zoe Ives, private sector engagement manager

Zoe Ives, private sector engagement manager

Growing the program

To introduce the program to more organisations we held an event in June 2017 in Zurich and invited representatives from a number of companies find out more about Growing Together.

At the event we explored the program in depth and began the first steps towards expanding the program with new partners.

Summary video from Growing Together event, June 2017:

Catch up with the discussions from the event via videos in the links below:

Introducing Growing Together - Juan Gonzalez-Valero (Syngenta) and Simon Brown (VSO)

A call for collaboration - Michael Gerber, Swiss Ambassador for Global Sustainable Development to the UN

Financing for resilient farming - AhsanUl Alam (Bank Asia)
Traceability and citizen monitoring of the SDGs - Puvan Selvanathan (Bluenumber)
Promoting women in agriculture - Teresa Wyatt (Syngenta)

Exploiting the volunteering model - Paul Philips (VSO)

Case studies from Growing Together

Download reports

Growing Together In Bangladesh - Syngenta and VSO.
2015-16 report. Download report (pdf)

Growing Together In Bangladesh - Syngenta and VSO.
2014-15 report. Download report (pdf)