Yara sets out on a mis­sion to trans­form the image of farm­ers in Thai­land by em­pow­er­ing farm­ers with in­for­ma­tion and fa­cil­i­tat­ing knowl­edge shar­ing.

Yara wants to trans­form the image of farm­ers in Thai­land. The com­pany be­lieves a pros­per­ous era of Thai agri­cul­ture can be achieved by em­pow­er­ing farm­ers.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - CHEYENNE HOL­LIS

It’s safe to say no Nor­we­gian com­pany op­er­at­ing in Thai­land has the vis­i­bil­ity Yara now boasts. That’s be­cause the newly minted 100 baht note fea­tures a de­pic­tion of the visit of H.M. King Rama V to the of­fi­cial res­i­dence of the com­pany’s CEO in 1907. Now im­mor­talised on Thai cur­rency, this event was the start of a long and fruit­ful re­la­tion­ship be­tween Yara and Thai­land.

“Not only did H.M. King Rama V visit Yara House in 1907, but he brought back our Cal­cium Ni­trate fer­tiliser with him. We were the first min­eral fer­tiliser used in Thai­land and this prod­uct is still sold here and known well as YaraLiva to­day. Thou­sands of Thai farm­ers cur­rently use it,” Mr Me­hdi Saint-An­dre, Yara (Thai­land) Ltd. Manag­ing Di­rec­tor and Vice Pres­i­dent of the group’s Crop Nutri­tion Busi­ness, re­calls. “A lot has changed since that visit. For ex­am­ple, we no longer use bar­rels to ship our fer­tilis­ers. One thing hasn’t changed and that is our com­mit­ment to help­ing Thai farm­ers.”

Yara has sold its prod­ucts in Thai­land for 45 years. It be­gan by of­fer­ing its fer­tilis­ers through a lo­cal dis­trib­u­tor. In early 2010, the com­pany took over its distri­bu­tion and has built its rep­u­ta­tion even fur­ther. The firm now has 160 deal­ers and 3,000 sub-deal­ers in the King­dom.

De­spite Yara’s long his­tory in Thai­land, which has seen it be­come known as an authen­tic, gen­uine and high qual­ity fer­tiliser, it faced some re­cent brand con­fu­sion. Other com­pa­nies tried to du­pli­cate its Vik­ing ship logo and brand name. As a re­sult, Yara has had to com­mence le­gal ac­tion against such in­fringers – one such law­suit re­sulted in the Thai Supreme Court re­cently rul­ing that the in­fringer’s use of a Vik­ing ship logo as well as the “[rua bai Vik­ing in Thai words]” (trans­lates to “Vik­ing sail­ing ship”) brand name is a vi­o­la­tion of Yara’s in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights.

Yara is cur­rently un­der­tak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant brand­ing cam­paign to en­sure it is known as the only Vik­ing fer­tiliser in Thai­land. The com­pany has found other ways to help these ef­forts as well.

“We were re­cently re­cer­ti­fied by Thai­land’s Pri­vate Sec­tor Col­lec­tive Ac­tion Coali­tion Against Cor­rup­tion and this is some­thing that means a lot for us as a com­pany,” Mr Saint-An­dre states. “Safety and com­pli­ance are ex­tremely im­por­tant to us and cus­tomers in Thai­land recog­nise our com­mit­ment to these.”

Smart farm­ers An­other one of Yara’s ef­forts in Thai­land is the align­ment of its Yara Thai­land 4.0 strat­egy with the gov­ern­ment’s Thai­land 4.0 push. This in­cludes a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in dig­i­tal farm­ing, one of the com­pany’s main points of em­pha­sis glob­ally.

“Yara is bring­ing knowl­edge, tools and data to­gether to drive and sup­port farmer per­for­mance. I be­lieve our lo­cal strat­egy based on farmer cen­tric­ity, strong part­ner­ships with SMEs and dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion will sup­port Thai eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion while also cre­at­ing more in­spi­ra­tion for the younger gen­er­a­tion to in­vest in agri­cul­ture,” Mr Saint-An­dre says.

Mr Saint-An­dre ad­mits the first image many peo­ple have of Thai farm­ers is of the poor rice farmer. How­ever, the com­pany wants to change that per­cep­tion. When peo­ple think of Thai agri­cul­ture, Yara wants them to see smart and suc­cess­ful farm­ers.

“Smart farm­ers al­ready ex­ist here.

You see them in places like Chantaburi where durian farm­ers have be­come very smart and are now en­joy­ing a great deal of suc­cess,” Mr Saint-An­dre points out. “But it can’t stop there. We want to make all farm­ers in Thai­land smarter. Dig­i­tal farm­ing makes this pos­si­ble. By com­bin­ing data, tools and ser­vices to help farm­ers be more pro­duc­tive, the image will change.”

Weather re­ports, soil and leaf anal­y­sis and crop in­for­ma­tion are just some of the data now read­ily avail­able to farm­ers. Yara be­lieves that hav­ing ac­cess to this helps them make in­formed de­ci­sions that al­lows them to en­joy greater suc­cess. The com­pany also has a dig­i­tal pres­ence via YouTube along with sev­eral other so­cial me­dia out­lets and a num­ber of mo­bile apps. This dig­i­tal outreach is some­thing Yara plans to ex­pand in the com­ing years.

“Here in Asia, we be­lieve it is im­por­tant to in­vest in this tech­nol­ogy. Hav­ing ac­cess to this in­for­ma­tion is what will help farm­ers to grow more pro­duc­tively and sus­tain­ably in Thai­land. There are al­ready many smart farm­ers in Thai­land. It is im­por­tant to pro­mote these grow­ers and show the rest of the coun­try how to copy their work,” Mr Saint-An­dre notes.

He con­tin­ues, “We have a team fo­cus­ing on how to share knowl­edge with farm­ers on­line as we look to build up more net­works. We will in­vest in chan­nels like Line in the fu­ture and find other ways to con­nect with Yara deal­ers and sub-deal­ers as well as farm­ers.”

In or­der to un­der­stand the needs of farm­ers and ed­u­cate them, it is im­por­tant to speak with them di­rectly. Yara is con­tin­u­ally meet­ing with farm­ers through­out the coun­try to keep di­a­logue open.

“We are al­ways meet­ing with farm­ers to find out what they need. This di­a­logue and knowl­edge shar­ing is im­por­tant to our goal. Last year, we had face-to-face meet­ings with 40,000 farm­ers in Thai­land,” Mr Saint-An­dre says. “It is nec­es­sary to work with lead­ers in the farm­ing com­mu­nity as they can be the foun­da­tion of our knowl­edge net­work.”

Yara will con­tinue to scale up these ef­forts in or­der to cre­ate more net­works and con­nec­tions among the Thai farm­ing com­mu­nity. The com­pany hopes to even­tu­ally be in con­tact with mil­lions of farm­ers, pro­vid­ing them with a plat­form to share knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion.

“We don’t want to be en­tirely prod­uct fo­cused. We need to be knowl­edge fo­cused to have the great­est im­pact. We have to pro­vide the knowl­edge along with our prod­uct,” Mr Saint-An­dre de­tails. “The Thai mar­ket is fa­mil­iar with our fer­tilis­ers, but we are much more than that. We ac­tu­ally don’t sell prod­ucts. We rec­om­mend a crop pro­gram based on the needs of what is be­ing grown.”

This al­lows the com­pany to guar­an­tee ex­tra rev­enue for farm­ers. And while Yara’s pro­gram costs more than their com­peti­tors’ prod­ucts, this ex­tra rev­enue has also been ac­counted into the pric­ing. While farm­ers are ini­tially pay­ing more, they will also make more by us­ing Yara.

Busi­ness out­look Yara cur­rently works with 20 Thai crops with rub­ber be­ing its big­gest mar­ket. The com­pany has seen sig­nif­i­cant growth in the durian and leafy veg­etable mar­kets with lon­gan and cit­rus among other key crops. Mr Saint-An­dre adds there are many op­por­tu­ni­ties here in Thai­land for the com­pany to ex­plore as it looks to in­crease its pres­ence in the coun­try.

De­spite rice be­ing one of Thai­land’s main crops, Yara doesn’t work with the grain as its prod­ucts are not de­signed for it. But the com­pany does see room for maize in the King­dom, a crop its fer­tilis­ers are well suited for and one that could re­place rice on some Thai farms.

“Thai­land cur­rently im­ports maize so this is a crop we are mon­i­tor­ing. It could be scaled up in Thai­land and this would be ben­e­fi­cial to the coun­try in a few ways,” Mr Saint-An­dre says. “It would al­low Thai­land to be less de­pen­dent on maize im­ports which are sus­cep­ti­ble to price fluc­tu­a­tions. Ad­di­tion­ally, con­di­tions needed to grow maize and rice are sim­i­lar. If farm­ers start to switch from rice to maize, some of the rice over­sup­ply may be elim­i­nated.”

Thai­land Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha urged rice farm­ers to cut out­put ear­lier this year to pre­vent an­other round of over­sup­ply that may cause prices to plum­met. He noted there are no plans in place to roll­out a rice-buy­ing scheme sim­i­lar to what past gov­ern­ments had done to sup­port the mar­ket.

And it is not just the farm­ers in Thai­land fac­ing ob­sta­cles. Mr Sain­tAn­dre ad­mits 2018 has been chal­leng­ing for Yara, but the com­pany was still able to record growth. Since many el­e­ments, such as weather and crop eco­nom­ics, are out of the com­pany’s con­trol, it can be hard to pre­dict the prospects for next year, but Mr Saint-An­dre is op­ti­mistic.

“We are grow­ing, but that growth has been small this year. Our am­bi­tions are big­ger. If we grow five per­cent this year, we want to im­prove that to 20 per­cent next year. How­ever, we don’t com­pletely con­trol this since there are many fac­tors out of our con­trol. There is no crys­tal ball when it comes to see­ing our out­look,” Mr Saint-An­dre ex­plains.

PHOTO: YARA (THAI­LAND)

PHOTO: YARA (THAI­LAND)

Above left: Yara (Thai­land) Ltd. Manag­ing Di­rec­tor, Mr Me­hdi Saint-An­dre ex­plained the brand’s Vik­ing iden­tity dur­ing a re­cent press event. Above: The com­pany’s fer­tilis­ers are be­ing used by many Thai durian farm­ers who are en­joy­ing suc­cess.

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