Progress towards global food security has stalled in recent years as the pandemic and geopolitical conflicts caused problems across the value chain. Yara is looking at ways it can help reverse the trend.
The 11th Global Food Security Index released by The Economist in 2022 showed a deterioration in the global food environment for the third consecutive year. According to the report, rising costs are creating food insecurity with countries in Asia particularly vulnerable to shocks.
As the world’s largest producer of nutrient fertilisers, Yara understands that without this product, farmers cannot maintain optimal soil health, resulting in lower crop yields and greater food insecurity. Additionally, geopolitical instability and the pandemic disrupted the sourcing and supply chains for food and fertiliser.
When such disruptions occur, farmers might pay a higher price for fertiliser and will ultimately have to pass on that cost to consumers.
As a global company specialising in crop nutrition, Yara has witnessed the problem first-hand.
“Fertilisers have not been as freely available as in years past. We have seen both prices and supply fluctuate significantly,” Mr Beda Merkelbach, Senior Vice President for Yara Thailand & Myanmar, details. “This is a major challenge locally, regionally, and globally and it is going to impact food security in the future. One of our priorities is to ensure that farmers–especially smallholders–have access to high-quality, affordable fertilisers.”
Risks of fertiliser shortages aren’t the only thing standing in the way of food security. Record-breaking temperatures and a growing number of droughts across the Mekong River Basin have caused water shortages making it harder to maintain crops.
“As it relates to food security, creating awareness of the issue has become vital. We need to raise the profile of agriculture so everyone can understand food security volatility. It impacts everyone in one form or another. This is a time to be vocal about what’s happening,” Mr Merkelbach notes.
Ultimately, sustainability will be key in the fight for food security. Yara is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint as it relates to both direct production (Scope 1) and indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) associated with energy purchase/use (Scope 2). Like many global companies, a critical focus for Yara is emissions generated by global supply chain customers and partners (Scope 3).
An example of this can be found in Yara’s nitrate-based fertilisers, produced in Norway and the European Union, which have a carbon footprint that is more than 50 percent lower than most non-EU fertilisers as a result of a catalytic cleaning process developed by the company. Clean and green ammonia production will further reduce emissions in fertilisers.
On the farm, regenerative agriculture is a crucial aspect of sustainability. As access to water and even fertiliser becomes more volatile, there is a greater need to optimise soil health and improve nutrient use efficiency and water use efficiency.
Yara’s line of specialty crop nutrition products and bio-stimulants are allowing farmers to increase their yields and improve crop nutrition, health and quality without increasing land use. The benefits of this are two-fold. First, food security is enhanced because soil health is optimised. This allows more food to be grown on existing farmland utilising less water. Secondly, crops are more robust and stress-resilient.
“We are working on specialty fertilisers to support regenerative agriculture. There is so much more we can do in this area, and we must be more proactive with empowering farmers with these tools,” Mr Merkelbach reports.
There is potential for new innovations as well. The company has begun exploring how it can help incentivise farmers to use regenerative agricultural practices. One possibility is creating extra income for farmers via carbon credit.
“In Thailand, we are looking for a partner for carbon credit or carbon sequestration who can assist us with the local market. We are evaluating multiple companies who can record the correct measurements and measure the real change that is happening while having the capability to scale this innovation,” Mr Merkelbach says.
There is hope that once farmers gain a greater understanding of regenerative agriculture and how best to achieve optimal soil and crop health, Thailand’s domestic food security be enhanced while potentially increasing food exports.
“In Thailand, farmers sometimes use too much fertiliser. This doesn’t necessarily produce the expected results of better crop yields and can sometimes cause damage to the soil,” Mr Merkelbach states. “Our team of professional agronomists partner with farmers to help them increase their yield and promote precision farming and optimal resource use.”
For Yara, soil mapping is critical to helping farmers develop optimal soil health as part of a comprehensive regenerative agricultural plan for them and for Thailand going forward.
“Currently, we are assessing how we can make soil analysis more accessible to farmers,” Mr Merkelbach explains. “Being able to provide this would allow farmers to know their needs and use the correct fertiliser. We continue to conduct soil samples in hopes of having enough data in the future. In the long run, this will enable us to make soil mapping for Thailand and guide farmers using historical data”.
Digitalisation has a role to play in the fight for food security and sustainability. Yara has listened closely to farmers to better understand what they need and focused on building innovations to meet those requirements.
“The knowledge of farmers is what provides us with our knowledge. They have hyperlocal experience that allows them to test and provide us with feedback. This is invaluable in developing effective products,” Mr Merkelbach says.
With the rise of smartphone usage, even in Thailand’s rural areas, digitalisation has been emphasised at Yara. Empowering farmers with access to knowledge and information at all times can produce better results for all stakeholders.
“We launched our first app five years ago and have been striving toward digitalisation ever since. This can really change the way farmers work for the better. For example, our Farmcare app can provide hyperlocal weather forecasts as well as information on how much fertiliser should be used and what product is right for what they are doing,” Mr Merkelbach details.
The next step for Yara Thailand, according to Mr Merkelbach, is to combine apps developed in previous years into one ecosystem for farmers where daily assistance is found at their fingertips – the Farmcare app.
Boosting food security and reaching global sustainability goals requires collaboration. This is a reality not lost on Yara. While the company has a relationship with Thailand that spans more than 100 years, it believes even more can be achieved together.
“Yara has a long, storied relationship with Thailand. We believe that there are still opportunities to do more locally. For that to happen, we need value chain, government, and non-governmental organisation partners. We cannot reach our goals for regenerative agriculture on our own,” Mr Merkelbach says. “Finding ways where we can support, collaborate, and innovate will ensure everyone wins.”
Thailand has sworn in a new government, which makes it an ideal time for this to begin in earnest. Officials have made positive statements about issues such as improving farmer income, sustainable food production, and improving efficiency through better crop yields.
Additionally, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has reiterated that he wants Thailand to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. All of these are focus areas for Yara as well which potentially lays a foundation for greater collaboration.
“This is a very good direction and one that aligns with our goals at Yara. There are many projects we could potentially collaborate with the Thai government on. In the past, we have worked with them on certain issues. There is now a chance to do more to achieve our shared ambitions,” Mr Merkelbach points out.
Beyond that, bilateral and multilateral integration and harmonisation would allow for deeper, more impactful partnerships. Thailand is negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs) with both the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Mr Merkelbach notes that FTAs like those Thailand is negotiating will facilitate economic integration, and allow partner nations to build certain capacities, including sustainable development.
“These arrangements push partner countries to be more sustainable and see what can be done better. Digitalisation and food security are among the areas to potentially be supported,” Mr Merkelbach explains. “These have a real long-term impact even if they may not cause much in the way of day-to-day change early on. The agreements set the right mindset for us to work. It fosters collaboration, dialogue, and a place where all parties grow together.
- Yara is a leading sustainable agricultural, digital farming solutions, and farmer livelihood-enhancement company headquartered in Oslo, Norway
- The company has 18,000 staff in 60 countries and sales in more than 160 countries.
- Yara Thailand has operated for more than 40 years through its country headquarters in Bangkok.
- Yara’s nitrate-based fertilisers have a carbon footprint that is more than 50 percent lower than most non-EU fertilisers
- Risk of fertiliser shortages can contribute to food insecurity
- The company is exploring how it can help farmers adopt regenerative agricultural practices
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