Agricultural multinational Syngenta is Thursday set to launch a Sh500 million research facility in Ruiru for developing new seed varieties and agrochemicals.
The research lab, adjacent to Tatu City, represents one of the most significant local investments for Swiss multinational.
Syngenta said the research facility would include “laboratories, greenhouses, cold houses and processing lines for the production of high-quality cereal and vegetable seeds”.
The firm sells insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and seeds in the local market.
“It is the only research and development global nursery site in Kenya and Africa,” said Syngenta in a statement to the Business Daily.
The seed varieties developed there will not only target the continent but also the global market. The company focuses on cereals — wheat and barley — and leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce. They will also work with sweet pepper, sunflower, watermelon and onion seeds.
Syngenta, which was last year acquired by ChemChina in a $43 billion deal, has said that it plans to bulk up its seeds business as a key part of the strategy to double revenue within five to ten years, a goal set by its parent company. Syngenta is the third-largest firm in the global seeds market, behind Monsanto and Dupont.
This new facility is expected to intensify competition in the local seeds market, which is dominated by East African firms.
According to the Access to Seeds Index, which is compiled by a Dutch nonprofit and assesses companies based on their efforts to improve access to quality seeds for smallholders, Syngenta is ranked seventh in East Africa.
This might be reflective of the dominance of Kenyan and Ugandan firms that are ranked quite highly and is at odds with Syngenta’s global ranking as the second best performing company, after Dupont, based on similar indicators.
According to the Index, Syngenta is particularly weak in its research and development in the region as well as its production capabilities. Dupont, Thailand’s East-West Seed, Kenya Seed Company, Victoria Seeds, and East African seed are some of the companies that beat out Syngenta in the Access to Seed Index.
Despite this, research indicates that there is a lot of room for growth in the local seeds business. The Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy last year found that small scale farmers in Kenya are shying away from using high-quality, hybrid maize seed.
The farmers cited the high costs of seeds, concern over counterfeit and sentimental attachment to local varieties as some of the reasons they had failed to adopt one of the more than 200 hybrid seed varieties that have been developed over the last ten years.