Mineral fertilizer is one of the world’s great under-appreciated innovations. In 1905, a group of Norwegian industrialists produced the world’s first nitrogen fertilizer in Notodeen, Norway. The world of agriculture took a giant leap forward. At a time when famine was ravaging Europe, the introduction of mineral fertilizer – with its capacity to dramatically increase farmers’ crop yields – potentially saved millions from hunger and improved the lives of many millions more in the century after.
112 years later, Yara is today one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers. It estimates that its crop nutrition solutions help to feed over 240 million people worldwide. It works with 20 million farmers across the world and has annual revenues of nearly US$14 million, hiring over 12,000 employees and delivering nearly 40 million tonnes of fertilizer. By any estimates, it has been a remarkable century for the firm which was born out of an innovative hydro-electric company. We took a look at the firm’s operations in Trinidad and Tobago, where the company operates 3 of its 16 plants.
From Norway to Trinidad
Similarities between Norway, a country located in Northern Europe with harsh freezing winters, and Trinidad and Tobago, a sun-soaked country of two islands located in the Caribbean, perhaps aren’t immediately obvious. However, both are small, forward-looking nations which have punched above their weight for a long time. In addition, both countries have sought to develop their economies through a combination of innovation and exports. In this regard, the two have a large set of common ground which could be built on if the right opportunity arose.
In 1991, perhaps cognizant of this common ground, the management of Norsk Hydro ASA, acquired a three-plant ammonia production facility located at Savonetta in central Trinidad. Today, two of the sites are run by Trinidad Nitrogen Co (Tringen), a successful joint venture between Yara and the government of Trinidad and Tobago, while the third is owned by Yara International, which operates the plant independently. Combined, all three of the sites employee 260 people – almost all of which are locals – and have annual production of 1.3 million metric tonnes, 99% of which is exported, making Trinidad and Tobago the world’s leading exporter of ammonia.
‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’
As part of its commitment to sustainability, Yara International developed a Sustainability Value Matrix, which it applies across all of its markets, including Trinidad and Tobago. The value matrix analyses what topics the company considers to be material to the company’s value creation and what topics are significant to society. The design of the matrix shows the company’s commitment to protect natural resources, food and the environment, as well as taking into account the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, in addition to several of the SDGs, Yara has added categories of its own. These include community relations and human rights.
It places a particular focus on continuous improvement in four areas. These are responsible growth, environment, health and safety and its workforce. Almost all of Yara’s energy is consumed in ammonia production, which makes the Trinidad and Tobago sites into focus for anyone looking to sustainability. Yara International consumes 4.9% less than the industry average for ammonia production and its energy consumption in the area has been falling year-on-year since 2013.
In terms of community and social participation, Yara Trinidad also maintains a strong presence on the islands. It is one of the largest sponsors of school and college track and field events in Trinidad and Tobago, a regular sponsor of the AMCHAM Health, Environment, Safety and Security Conference which is held annually, and regularly participates in the West Indies World of Work Seminar.
Yara International’s commitment to Trinidad and Tobago is reflected in the diversity of local partners it employs to support it in its ongoing operations. Primary among these local partners is a firm called Process Management Limited, a local provider of process automation and instrumentation. Its client list includes some of the world’s largest mining firms, providing testament to the quality of its output. It was responsible for the upgrade of Yara Trinidad’s control system as well as the engineering, selection and supply of control valves for the revamp of Yara Triniad’s HAT Plant.
In fact, what emerges from looking through Yara Trinidad’s local partner list is a veritable ecosystem of suppliers for a firm of its kind. Other local partners include Amsha Engineering Limited, who continue to aid Yara Trinidad with several complex engineering solutions, ESAU Oilfield Supplies who provide complementary supplies from the oil and gas industry, and Ameritrin, who assist Yara in its logistical operations. On the financial side, Yara Trinidad works with National Enterprises Limited (NEL) who assist with corporate governance issues that come with having state-owned assets under management.
Out of the ashes
Trinidad and Tobago’s considerable ammonia assets have made it one of the wealthiest nations in the Caribbean. In its 55 years of independence, it has made incredible strides to have a GDP per capita which is higher than that of even some European nations. It ammonia trade has played, and will continue to play, a central role in that economic development. While ammonia prices have fallen over the past 5 years from their historical highs.
The government has also made the development of agriculture one of its primary focuses over its five year term to 2020. With its ammonia resources being a primary input for fertilizer, Yara Trinidad can play an integral role in the development of this sector. There may come a time in the not so distant future where Trinidad and Tobago begins to use more of its ammonia resources at home, than it exports. In any case, Yara Trinidad will be there working alongside the country all of the way – an integral part of the country’s development, in whatever form that development takes.
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