Fertilizer Industry Discusses Pathways to a Sustainable Future

IFA 2021, Toward a Sustainable Future confirmed the commitment of the fertilizer industry to finding solutions and creating value as it works to make the production and application of fertilizers more sustainable.

After an absence of more than a year and a half due to Covid-19 IFA held its annual conference in person in Lisbon where approximately 500 participants from some 200 companies and 50 countries reconnected from September 27-29.

A program of sustainability experts from the fertilizer industry, banking and agribusiness discussed what sustainability means for the plant nutrition sector and how to make progress.

Keynote speaker Miguel J. Martins, Sustainable Investments Partner at Grosvenor House of Investments and Seasoned Sustainability Coach at Systemic of Portugal, advocated a positive approach and immediate action to tackle climate change and inequality.

"When we are faced with problems we can’t solve, it’s very easy to go into denial and right now, we are already running out of time,” Martins said. “We need to be optimistic to find solutions."

During an opening fireside chat with IFA Director General Alzbeta Klein, Bas Rüter, Director of Sustainability at Rabobank, highlighted the effect investors can have on sustainability.

“Banks and institutional investors have an important responsibility in making the economy work,” Rüter said. “We have a large impact on solutions in food agriculture.”

The essential role sustainability should play for all businesses was also a major theme during the IFA-World Business Council for Sustainable Development Roundtable on Sustainability and Business Transformation.

"Social impact will be as important as other business aspects. We want to leave a planet behind where people can live and have prosperity,”

said Dr. Alexander Schmitt, Chief Marketing Officer at Anglo American, a mining company.

Featuring participants from a range of industries, the panel emphasized key shared success factors for implementing sustainability strategies.

"A sustainability strategy is a business strategy. You have to be comfortable working outside of your organization. To get scale and make a lasting impact you need to forge lasting partnerships," said Robert Coviello, Chief Sustainability Officer and Government Affairs at Bunge, which sources, processes and supplies oilseed and grain products and ingredients.

Candace Laing, VP of Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations at Nutrien, a fertilizer producer and retailer, meanwhile discussed the sustainability challenges facing agricultural value chain.

“We need to solve in a systems way to have both food security and climate security at the same time,” Laing said. “That is one of the big issue challenges of our time.”

A Gender Opportunity Session on day two highlighted the business and ethical case for diversity and inclusion.

"Clearly there is a very long way to go, and we need to get going on this,” said Svein Tore Holsether, IFA Chair and President & CEO of Yara International. “Gender equality would bring 12 trillion dollars of GDP growth.” It is also the decent thing to do, Holsether added.

Dr. Alexander Schmitt, Chief Marketing Officer at Anglo American, talked about success factors from the mining industry. "More diverse teams are more innovative, safer and more productive,” Schmitt said. “But more than that, diversity is an important part of the SDGs and sustainability.”

Adnan ALMahmood, General Manager Corporate Support at Gulf Petrochemical Industries Co. discussed his company's empowerment initiative framework that includes supporting women led research, providing educational support and appointing women in leadership posts.

Rejane Souza, VP Crop and Agronomy at Yara International gave an insight into the company's Women in Agronomy Program. "More than 45% of people see the fertilizer business behind agricultural peers in terms of gender diversity so we need to think about this," Souza said, highlighting the importance of improving the industry’s diversity reputation.

The need to nurture female talent was reiterated by Bahiya Hanoun, Head of Marketing and Development at the Africa Business School and Chargée de Mission, Office of the Chairman at OCP.

“At OCP we are convinced that the promotion of gender diversity within the Group starts with the preparation and development of our female talent pool," Hanoun said.

Meanwhile, Esin Mete, former CEO of TOROS TARIM and the first female Chair of IFA gave a heartfelt overview of the industry’s diversity journey. "Over the years I have noticed that I am no longer the only women at technical conferences. We are not there yet, but I see more women in production and site maintenance. We need to reach 50% women employees in the industry," Mete said.

The program also covered the big picture, regional and product themes from global markets over two days. Five Global Markets sessions provided a thorough overview of fertilizer markets, covering everything from the recent commodities rally, ESG pressures and fertilizer demand, to fertilizer product markets and emerging trends in special products and green ammonia.

The event highlighted the fertilizer industry’s growing focus on sustainability. As IFA Director General Alzbeta Klein observed: “Sustainability is the most important business opportunity that we have ahead of us and has the means to accelerate the transformation of our industry.”

Event sponsors:

Official partner: Turismo de Lisboa.