In discussion with Syngenta Canada Chief Financial Officer Chris Legge

Chris Legge is the Chief Financial Officer for Syngenta Canada, a position he’s held for 14 years. He represents the company as a coalition partner on the National Index on Agri-Food Performance established to create Canada’s first agri-food sustainability index. In this interview, Legge draws on the past lessons he’s learned about sustainable agri-food production that is economically viable.

Q: Chris, you’ve followed an unusual path to your current role at Syngenta, with leadership positions in the fisheries sector. What did you learn about sustainability from that experience that we can draw on in agriculture?
A: Growing up in the Maritimes, my experiences there, started and shaped my relationship with sustainability. July 1992 comes to mind first, a date most Canadians will recall, when the Cod Moratorium was imposed by the Canadian government. After being an economic driver on the east coast for centuries, the cod fishing industry failed to evolve its practices, resulting in the cod fish population collapse and a devastating economic fallout. This failure is often attributed to decades of focus put on short-term gains over long-term objectives and adhering to scientific best practice. 

Three decades later, we know fish stocks have never come back to a level to sustain pre-moratorium fishing quotas. 

Living through this crisis and seeing the devastating effects of poor resource management, has sparked my interest in and commitment to sustainable agriculture. I know what could be lost for Canada if we think about farming without using science to guide our decisions. We need to be proactive, future-minded, and stay focused on ensuring what we harvest today will also be possible in future years for future generations. 

Q: You’re representing Syngenta in an agri-food industry project to establish Canada’s first agri-food sustainability index. What can you tell us about this initiative?
A: This is a diverse coalition of more than 40 multi-sectoral stakeholders from across Canada’s food system aiming to establish Canada’s first National Index on Agri-Food Performance to quantify what the food value chain is doing in terms of sustainability. The proposed index is a tool that supports our global market share opportunities and our ability to build greater trust among consumers both domestically and globally. Many organizations in agri-food are already deeply committed to sustainability and are taking action towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We want to synthesize those key performance indicators into a meaningful index that will benchmark Canada’s sustainability efforts in agriculture and food while linking it to other global reporting initiatives.

Canada is one of the world’s leading food exporters, and we want to remain at the forefront of sustainability. This proposed sustainability index is an opportunity for Canada to affirm we are one of the most sustainable and responsible food systems in the world. It’s an ambitious project – and one that demonstrates the shared values of the agri-food industry and the power of collaboration.

Q: Are sustainability and profitability complementary, or do we expect profit to decrease as agriculture becomes more sustainable?
A: Profitability and sustainability need to co-exist. I’m confident other stakeholders in the Canadian food system feel this way too. Listening to my coalition partners on the National Index on Agri-Food Performance, I can assure you, they all share the goal of sustainable agri-food production that is economically viable. We know that to be successful, no one section of the food system should shoulder the entirety of the costs.

It’s a position we share at Syngenta. Our approach is to ensure everybody wins: that our growers and customers are prosperous, agriculture becomes more sustainable, and consumers have safe, healthy and nutritious food. 

It goes without saying the cost of doing nothing is unacceptable; as the cod moratorium has demonstrated we need to innovate and evolve all aspects of the food value chain using science-based decision-making.

Continued sustainable solutions can help growers farm profitably while still mitigating the impact of climate change. If we get it right, our sector can be a net positive in the global climate challenge. We’re on the front lines of that challenge.