On Sunday, July 5, UNESCO decided to include the towns of Rjukan and Notodden, Norway, on their world Cultural Heritage List, which honors sites for “outstanding universal value.” These sites were where it all started for Yara – and they now find themselves alongside the likes of the Taj Mahal, the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dashur and the Great Wall of China.
Yara’s development is rooted in that of Norwegian industrial firm Norsk Hydro, which dates back to 1905. That’s when Norwegian industrialists Sam Eyde, Kristian Birkeland and Swede Marcus Wallenberg tapped into Norway’s large hydro energy resources to produce the company’s first important product -- mineral fertilizer -- which attracted attention from all over the world because it enabled farmers to boost their yields.
“This was the very start of the Yara we see today – it all began with mineral fertilizer”
Bente Slaatten, Yara’s Chief Communications and Branding Officer
The mission of fertilizer production back then was to meet the world’s growing demand for agricultural production in the early 20th century. The sites are now on the UNESCO World Heritage List, while the mission remains the same: To close the gap between food security and food insecurity worldwide.
“This is a great recognition of what was achieved by bold entrepreneurs early in the last century,” says Yara’s Chief Communications and Branding Officer, Bente Slaatten. “We are proud and humble, carrying their legacy and continuing the mission they started on.”
The first industrial and hydroelectric projects turned Notodden, a small town in the Telemark County region of southern Norway, into the Klondike of the north. But the investment was to be overshadowed by the massive construction of a site in the village of Rjukan, situated between steep mountains, thick forests and massive waterfalls. Rjukan was ideal for producing the amount of energy needed to manufacture industrial-scale mineral fertilizer.
“I would like to extend my greetings to the people of Notodden and Rjukan, for the history they are carrying with them and for the work they have done to make sure their local history will never be forgotten,” Slaatten says. “In light of the food challenges that were looming at the beginning of the 20th century, the accomplishment was remarkable. We must remember that the investment was larger than all credit reserves in Norway combined at the time,” Slatten emphasizes.
Back in the day, to tame the wild waterfalls required bold engineering capabilities, strong men and lots of willpower. The sites included the construction of hydroelectric power plants, transmission lines, factories, transport systems and towns.
“This was the very start of the Yara we see today – it all began with mineral fertilizer,” Slaatten explains. “In Yara today, we are proud to continue the work that was started by Sam Eyde and Kristian Birkeland – with financial support of Marcus Wallenberg. Without their spirit and the efforts presented by the people of Notodden and Rjukan, there would be no Yara today,” she says. “Their initial mission of feeding a growing world sustainably is still valid for us today and guides us in our day-to-day operations,” she said.
UNESCO’s List of World Cultural Heritage spans from art and archaeological conservation to film preservation and museum studies. Cities, buildings and monuments all over the world, such as The Acropolis of Athens (Greece), Petra (Jordan), Machu Picchu (Peru) and Le Mont Saint-Michel (France) are prime examples of what is already on the list that Notodden and Rjukan just joined. Curious? Why don’t you come and have a look for yourself!
Read more about the History of Yara
Learn about UNESCO (external site)
Images of Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal, the Great Wall and Pyramids of Gizah in courtesy of mmarchin, Tanaka Juuyoh, Lori Branham and Wilhelm Joys Andersen under Creative Commons license. Modified from original.