The Business Year

Olaf Hektoen

COLOMBIA - Agriculture

Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link

Senior Vice President, Yara International ASA


Olaf Hektoen studied finance and administration in Norway. He has been working at Yara since 1998 and, with exception of 2001 to 2004, he has occupied positions outside his country as Financial Director of Yara Africa (2004-2009), Yara Iberia Director (2009-2013), and now as Business Unit Director of Latam region in Bogotá.

TBY talks to Olaf Hektoen, Senior Vice President of Yara International ASA, on reinforcing its relationship with farmers, being an important partner in the post-conflict period, and improving productivity.

What have been some recent challenges and accomplishments?

In 2015, we were in the middle of completing an acquisition and today are one company in Colombia. In the last few years, we have worked a lot on our culture because a global, northern European company buying a regional Latin American one can often result in an initial culture clash. So we have worked hard to ensure that people feel at home and are motivated. The second has been maintaining and reinforcing our relationship with our most important stakeholders, the farmers. Yara is a company that mainly works with fertilizers, and we know that the relationship with the end user is key to our success; therefore, assuring the user that their business is improving is important. The fact that customer satisfaction is so closely linked to both growth and company value means that we spend quite a lot of time on that dimension.

How has your commitment to the sector changed since the peace deal?

One of the causes of the conflict was the difference between urban and rural areas. People in rural areas felt they had been left behind, and our end users are all in rural areas. We see ourselves as an important partner in the post-conflict period because Colombia still has an enormous amount of small farmers. Since they seek for support as they improve themselves, this is where Yara is different from other companies in our sector. We have agronomists and sales people on the ground; we are not just a producer or importer, but work closely to establish a measure and follow up on the relationship with end users with a view to help them to improve quality and productivity.

What is the role of Yara in helping farmers understand the use of new technologies?

Colombia is well known for its coffee crop, and there are 550,000 coffee farmers; socially it is an important product. There are different stages of development for each crop, and we show the farmer simple information sheets that showcase the different growth stages and what products they can use to feed the crops properly. We make it visible and simple to use. Then, we have our sales team on the ground working with associations. When we talk to a farmer that may have a lower level of education or income, they are often wary of people simply looking to make another sale, which is why we often use field trials to demonstrate what our solutions can do compared to traditional ones.

What initiatives are you pushing to promote a more sustainable agri-business?

The most important area of improvement for the Colombian agriculture sector is productivity. The problem with low productivity is not only lower incomes, but also inefficient use of land. This is why we work to protect forests, protected areas, and national parks, and have a number of sustainable development goals such as zero hunger, no poverty, and more profitable farmers. Zero hunger means producing more food close to where consumers are. This leads to lower emissions, especially considering that the agricultural sector emits a fair amount.

What must the new administration do to improve and incentivize the agriculture business?

One of the key areas for us is land ownership. Farmers must know they have a title to the land they till and that no one will come tomorrow and claim it back. Otherwise, they will not invest in it. The profitability and quality of life of farmers is another key area, not to mention the country’s overall commitment to the peace process. Depending on the new government the peace process can go in different directions. The private sector is an important partner in this. If farmers are stronger, then we are stronger as a company.



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