Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of Yara, is an innovation optimist. In this interview he explains why.
Q: Svein Tore Holsether, when you joined Yara as CEO and President in September 2015 you were new to the fertilizer business and agricultural sector. What are your reflections on the role agriculture plays?
“I think one of the most exciting trends we’ve seen in recent years is that of digital agriculture”
Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO
A: It’s been quite a steep learning curve for me, and I’m impressed by what I’ve experienced. Agriculture is a sector that affects so many lives all over the world.
I find it interesting that agriculture is at the intersection of so many global challenges, such as food security, climate change and the eradication of extreme poverty.
You could even add mass migration, with a number of reports highlighting the link between food insecurity and social unrest and conflict, causing people to flee their homes in search of a better life.
Q: What is Yara doing to help solve these challenges?
A: We’re doing a lot at farm level, and it’s been inspiring to be out in the field to see the direct impact we have.
I recently visited a lime and banana farmer in Thailand, who had achieved higher yields and income since working with the Yara team, using our products and following our crop nutrition programs. These are very tangible outcomes.
We are also engaged in a number of public-private partnerships.
Q: Can you give an example of a partnership Yara is involved in?
A: I'll give two examples.
In January 2016 I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, where I signed an agreement with among others The United Nations World Food Programme, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Rabobank and Syngenta. The initiative is called The Patient Procurement Platform and the goal is to support smallholder farmers with improved market access and the means to improve their yields. The ambition is ultimately to aggregate USD 750 million of purchasing power demand through engagement with approximately 1.5 million farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
I also like to look at our relationships with farmers across the world as partnerships. In Asia alone we meet with 250.000 farmers each year to share knowledge and farming practices. In Europe we are working with farmers offering them a number of precision farming tools to help them maximize yields and income while minimizing negative environmental impact.
Q: It seems you believe agriculture has the potential to play an even more important role in the future?
A: I believe agriculture has the potential of being a game changer.
According to the UN more than 800 million people still live in extreme poverty today and almost 800 million are undernourished. If you look at Africa the agricultural sector can be an engine for growth. A number of studies show that growth in the agricultural sector is three times as efficient as other sectors when it comes to lifting people out of poverty.
Q: Is this something people are aware of or do you think many underestimate agriculture as a sector?
A: In case people are still not aware of the positive impact agriculture can have on rural development and the fight against climate change, we will certainly do what we can to explain it.
But I believe more and more people are increasingly recognizing agriculture’s importance. If you look at emissions for example, there is a huge potential for reductions through best farming practices and precision farming tools.
I think one of the most exciting trends we’ve seen in recent years is that of digital agriculture.
Q: Does this mean that you are an innovation optimist?
A: Absolutely! If you look at the history of Yara, it's a story of innovation. It started more than one hundred years ago when Sam Eyde and Kristian Birkeland found a way of extracting nitrogen from the air to produce mineral fertilizers.
We have developed this nitrogen expertise, finding new ways of applying our products. Yara is, for instance, the largest producer of AdBlue, which is used to clean NOx emissions from vehicles, and NOx reduction reagents for ships and industrial plants.
This is only one example of how a large company can help drive innovation and actually be in the business of helping to solve society’s problems.
Regarding the agricultural sector, I believe we will see a large number of innovations and improvements in the next few years. At Yara we’re working on several technology projects that hopefully can support farmers in unleashing the huge potential of sustainable agriculture.