9 December 2021

Crop Protection Contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goals

Dr. Christoph Neumann

Vice President, Regulatory Affairs
CropLife International

By Dr. Christoph Neumann

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were designed to be the blueprint to adapt to 21st century challenges and achieve a better and more sustainable future for us all. But this can only happen if all players – industry, governments, donors, civil society and NGOs – work together.

CropLife International and its global network have developed more than 300 partnerships across agricultural systems to support farmers in sustainably growing healthy crops. Partnering with governments, development organizations, foundations and food value chain actors increases the scale of this outreach and leads to aligned and reinforced messaging. These partnerships build on the efforts of CropLife International, its global network and member companies who by themselves train more than 10 million growers every year.

Crop protection is vital for harvesting sufficient quality food and thereby reducing the need for expanding cropped land. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that without crop protection global crop losses would double,[1] creating a devastating impact on global food security. While all farmers are challenged by climate change, smallholder farmers in developing countries are being hit the hardest. They urgently need access to a wide range of tools tailored to local conditions to produce more food, whilst maintaining biodiversity and adapting to climate change.

Crop protection is vital for harvesting sufficient quality food and thereby reducing the need for expanding cropped land.

Sustainable crop protection management is pivotal to the future of feeding, clothing and generating biofuels for humanity. However, full delivery on the SDGs requires an approach that is cognizant of the nexus between the issues of food security, biodiversity and climate change. CropLife International and our partners contribute to a number of the SDGs:

SDG 1 NO POVERTY: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. Since 2005, CropLife International has delivered training in good agricultural practices (GAPs) to more than 5 million farmers in 70 countries, helping them increase income and decrease poverty. The impact of this training is life-changing for many farmers and rural dwellers. For example, in Zambia, Spray Service Providers are increasingly used to apply herbicides. This has directly resulted in an increase in school attendance, particularly among girls, as children did not have to be kept out of school to perform the hard and sometimes dangerous task of hand-weeding. Education is known to provide a route out of poverty, particularly for girls.

SDG 2 ZERO HUNGER: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Using plant science products helps increase harvests and reduce crop losses to pests, greatly increasing food availability. The CropLife network trains smallholder farmers in integrated pest management (IPM) so they can effectively protect their crops and increase food security. For example, a project in Ethiopia, in partnership with the Dutch development agency SNV, helps Ethiopian families have an affordable, healthy and balanced diet.

SDG 3 GOOD HEALTH AND WELL-BEING: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Crop protection boosts crop yields and quality. Mycotoxins, including aflatoxins, caused by plant pathogens have been described as one of the most carcinogenic substances known to man, although they also cause other health problems. Crop protection can reduce the incidence of mycotoxins, making food safer and improving human health and well-being.

Improved weed management reduces the physical injuries and incidents, including snake bites, that are endured using traditional weeding approaches. Women often bear the brunt of these health issues as weeding is frequently done by them.

Since 2005, CropLife International has delivered training in good agricultural practices (GAPs) to more than 5 million farmers in 70 countries, helping them increase income and decrease poverty.

SDG 8 DECENT WORK AND ECONOMIC GROWTH: Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Stewardship enables farmers to produce crops for certified programs that promote decent work conditions and generate production dividends. The CropLife network also cultivates private sector Spray Service Providers, a certification program that increases rural employment, while ensuring the responsible use of pesticides.

SDG 12 RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. CropLife International and its member companies are committed to sustainable production. The research and product development of member companies is driven by sustainability goals and exciting innovations, including precision agriculture and the use of biological products. These innovations have huge potential for sustainably transforming agriculture and adhering to the UN’s Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), which aims to improve the sustainable use and effective management of pesticides. CropLife International also supports SAICM’s overall orientation and guidance by building capacity for risk assessment, mitigation, and management for regulators and users in low-income countries.

Since 2005, the crop protection industry has collected and safely disposed more than 1 million tonnes of empty plastic pesticide containers in 59 countries, most of which were recycled. In addition, CropLife International partnered with national governments, the FAO, World Bank and various NGOs on the Africa Stockpiles Programme, established in 2005, to remove 8,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides from the continent. A new phase of the project (2019-2025) focuses on preventing obsolete stocks in addition to managing them properly. Learn more about CropLife International’s efforts to make progress on this goal through our stewardship and container management programs.

SDG 13 CLIMATE ACTION: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Agriculture accounts for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (11 percent from crop and livestock activities and an additional 9 percent from related land use),[2] but its impact is decreasing, and it can even be a solution climate change. New technologies and best practices reduce GHGs and help soil sequester carbon. Scientific research shows that when farmers adopt agricultural technologies, they increase food production, lower their carbon footprint and food prices, and improve global food security.[3]

Since 2005, the crop protection industry has collected and safely disposed more than 1 million tonnes of empty plastic pesticide containers in 59 countries, most of which were recycled.

SDG 15 LIFE ON LAND: Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Stewardship minimizes the environmental footprint of crop protection, IPM enhances biodiversity and integrated crop management practices make the best of existing farmland to prevent expansion.

In addition, the CropLife network works with partners to protect vital pollinators like honeybees. CropLife India partnered with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Agricultural Development Trust Baramati to provide farmers with rental beehives during the flowering season to increase crop pollination and yields, while still sustainably using crop protection.

SDG 17 PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE GOALS: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. Stewardship is most effectively implemented in partnership to maximize outreach to farmers and standardize important messaging as evidenced by our co-creation of IPM materials with the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services. Utilizing digital tools for engagement with farmers has long been employed by CropLife Latin America, and in 2021, CropLife Chile developed a virtual reality tool for pest identification. CropLife Asia and CropLife International have developed training tools on the responsible use of drones in crop protection.

These are just a few of the many ways that agriculture and the plant science industry are already contributing to accelerating the implementation of the SDGs. But the challenge remains. It is no longer enough to simply unite behind the 17 SDGs; we need new, transformative ways of collaboration to truly achieve change. Only then will we be able to demonstrate the important role plant science innovations can play in solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges, including achieving zero hunger and carbon neutrality through nature-positive production. In this context, the sustainable management of pesticides is a foundational element to the industry’s long-term ambitions, vision and goal and it is at the heart of all of our activities.

Dr. Christoph Neumann is vice president for regulatory policy and stewardship for CropLife International.


[1] OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012. http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/oecd-fao-agricultural-outlook-2012_agr_outlook-2012-en

[2] FAO, 2020. The share of agriculture in total greenhouse gas emission. Global, regional and country trends 1990–2017. FAOSTAT Analytical Brief Series No 1. Rome.

[3] IFPRI (2014) study on climate change and innovation. Study name – Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies.

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