Yara is far more prevalent in Thailand than people realise. From the country’s sprawling farmlands to the digital shelves of e-commerce, its product and impact can be felt just about everywhere.
Most people are familiar with Yara’s distinguished history in Thailand. An image of King Rama V sitting in a car outside the company’s office in Norway can be found on the Thai 100-baht banknote. The story of His Majesty returning to the Kingdom with Yara fertiliser is a source of pride for both countries. For nearly 50 years, Yara Fertiliser has been active in Thailand. However, the public may not realise is just how prevalent the brand is. Many Bangkokians have likely seen Yara fertiliser sail right past them and not even known it.
“In Thailand, Yara is the single biggest importer of product from Norway in terms of volume. Our warehouse is equal to 10 football pitches,” Mr Mehdi Saint-Andre, Yara VP – Thailand and Myanmar, recalls. “What people may not realise is many of those barges on the Chao Phraya River are carrying our bulk fertiliser. It is going from the ship to our facility in Ayutthaya. More than 50,000 tonnes per shipment make the journey.”
Yara’s contributions extend far beyond its products as the company looks to make a positive social impact. Sometimes these are high-profile efforts while other endeavours may not be as well known but remain important nonetheless. “There are times when we know we must step in. For example, during the Tham Luang cave rescue in 2018, there were farmers who had to give up their land as they drained water from the cave during the evacuation. We made sure to assist them in aftermath,” Mr Saint-Andre explains. “During Thailand’s first COVID-19 lockdown, we donated fertiliser to 500 mango farmers in Pijit province who lost their both local and export markets because of the situation. These actions are how our company can contribute and make a difference.”
He also points to the company’s diversity and inclusion programme as another way it is making a positive social impact. The local Yara team in Thailand has taken ownership of these efforts to ensure they lead to real change. “Farming, especially on the front lines, can be a male-dominated industry. Making it more inclusive is something high on our agenda. We have created programs that support women becoming agronomists. This is encouraging and inspiring the next generation,” Mr Saint-Andre details. “We have found ways to support making farming more accessible to people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community.”
These efforts are boosted by the fact everyone in the farming community knows and trusts Yara. They have worked side-by-side with farmers, retailers and dealers for decades. “We are now seeing a third generation of farmers using Yara fertiliser. There are a lot of local entrepreneurs in Thailand who have grown their own business alongside Yara. We have 150 dealers and more than 5,000 retailers who have built a relationship with us,” Mr Saint-Andre says. “This means a great deal to us. Everyone still wants to sell Yara and farmers in Thailand continue to use our products after all these years.”
Disruption isn’t a word thrown around much in the farming industry. While processes can be upgraded and efficiency improved upon, there are certain aspects of it that are impossible to disrupt. However, the COVID-19 pandemic still required Yara to rethink some of its business operations. “At the end of the day, farming is a physical business. It has been disruption proof to a certain extent. But even then, we don’t want to wait around for someone to find a way to disrupt what we do,” Mr Saint-Andre points out. “One of the challenges we faced during the COVID-19 pandemic was figuring out how to digitise interactions with farmers.
Meeting with them face-to-face is very important for the company but that wasn’t possible during the pandemic. We wanted this dialogue to remain ongoing and developed a platform to stay connected.” Smart farming continues to be an area of emphasis for Yara. So, while the past 18 months saw the company look to increase digitisation, such as launching the Yara Fertiliser flagship store on Lazada, these advancements were still aligned with long-term ambitions.
“A few years ago, we met with dtac about working together to create the KasetGo application. Our vision was for these two Norwegian companies to come together and build a platform where farmers could share knowledge. This wasn’t a dtac- or Yara-branded endeavour. It was focused on developing something useful for the industry since farmers trust other farmers more than anyone else,” Mr Saint-Andre recounts.
He continued, “We want to help farmers make data-driven decisions with the application. Whether it is information about weather or having the ability to read leaves, it helps them be more efficient.” This new technology is allowing it to offer farmers value beyond product. Mr Saint-Andre believes digital offerings may bring the company new customers down the road and could help Yara shift from being solely a product-based company to one that can provide services as well.
Digitisation is also changing the way Yara and its vast network of dealers and retailers throughout the country collaborate. Thailand was the first market to test the Yara Connect, an application which brought all three groups together. “While the company is able to meet regularly with dealers, interacting with the more than 5,000 retailers proved to be difficult. Even then, we didn’t want to bypass the dealers directly,” Mr Saint-Andre states. “With Yara Connect, we can bring everyone together on the distribution side to share knowledge and find solutions to pain points. Ultimately, the app helps everyone move their business forward.”
One thing Yara remains mindful of in all aspects of its digital transformation is efficiency. According to Mr Saint- Andre, the company isn’t looking to remove layers. Instead, it wants to improve upon what has already been built. “The physical presence and relationships we have through our entire network is something tech companies can’t match,” Mr Saint-Andre says. “The goal with technology is to make the ecosystem more efficient and build on our presence and relationships.”
Sustainability with Understanding
Yara’s sustainability initiatives are carried out understanding the sensitivities of farmers. The company does not want them alone to bear the cost of these efforts which can place undue pressure on them. “Farmers are sensitive to cost. Many find themselves in a tough spot. They don’t control a lot of what happens, and this means they tend to focus on short-term benefits. It’s vital we incentivise sustainability, so it makes sense for them to participate in programs,” Mr Saint- Andre notes.
One way to accomplish this is by rethinking how sustainability is supported through the value chain. The company is currently working with farmers and food manufacturers like Pepsi Co. in Thailand to help create sustainable value chains. “If you combine incentivised sustainability with a value-chain approach, then you can make sure the process is sustainable without one party needing to carry the entire cost,” Mr Saint-Andre reports.
As for what the company is doing, its sustainability efforts now extend to the production and transportation processes as the brand strives to reduce carbon emissions. This includes plans to fully remove CO2 emissions from its Porsgrunn ammonia production which would create emission-free shipping fuels and decarbonised food solutions. Yara is also looking to make its highly recognisable packaging more environmentally friendly. While the bags themselves are rarely thrown away, Mr Saint-Andre cites the launch of the Rak Tong Laak project as one way the company is encouraging plastic use reduction and upcycling. The program has created collection centres where people can leave bags should they no longer want them.
“The first key to sustainability is knowledge. Digital advancements allow us to better understand the issues and how we can improve. Perhaps the most important lesson learned over the years is efficiency. Yara has long asked farmers to apply product more effectively and remains committed to this. But this is a start. We continue to find new ways to further our sustainability efforts extending from farms to the entire value chain,” Mr Saint-Andre concludes.
- The Yara Fertiliser flagship store was launched on Lazada as part of the company’s digitalisation efforts.
- Yara and dtac worked together to create the KasetGo application, a platform to help farmers make data-driven decisions.
- The company’s newly launched Rak Tong Laak project is encouraging plastic use reduction and upcycling of its bags.
- Yara donated fertiliser to 500 mango farmers in Pijit province during the COVID-19 lockdown.
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