This has never been done before

Amid COVID-19, a time of crisis becomes a catalyst for transformation in rural communities East Africa

The UN projects 265 million people face severe food insecurity due to COVID-19; no event since World War II’s end has had as profound a global impact. Through Action Africa, 250,000 farmers can now provide food for one million people in East Africa for one year, while millions more are connecting to ongoing advice through Yara’s groundbreaking new digital platform.

“We are facing the crisis of a lifetime. Failing to act could cause irreversible social and economic damage,” says Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of Yara International. “Vulnerable communities in Africa may face the most devastating food crisis in decades. Millions of people will be pushed into deep poverty and hunger. Lives and livelihoods are at risk. As a critical part of the food value chain, we have a responsibility to lend our support.”

Yara is taking action

The donation of 40,000 tons of premium fertilizer can enable farmers to triple the region’s maize production this year. For the first time ever, Yara successfully digitally traced the fertilizer’s distribution from port to farmers in East Africa, paving the way for the development of a secure supply chain across the region.

Two African men loading fertilizer bags on motorbike

“In March 2020, when COVID-19 became a reality, it was clear that there was something radically different happening,” says Øystein Botillen, Development Manager, Stakeholder Relations and Business at Yara. “We asked ourselves, how can we make a difference? The very idea of getting 40,000 metric tons of fertilizer produced in Norway, shipped with two vessels from Porsgrunn to three ports in East Africa and bringing it to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Mozambique was a massive piece of logistic operation. What we have achieved in an extraordinarily short period of time is unique. This could not happen if we didn't have trusted, good quality partners in the continent.”

Urgent action today can do more than prevent permanent social and economic damage. It is also a catalyst for transformational change that can create a more resilient food system for millions of people.

“I can’t encourage all corporations enough to reconsider their role to lend a voice to those who have been left behind, so that everyone who is willing to ‘co-shape’ the future can do so.”

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

Woman scanning QR code on fertilizer bag

The Action Africa: Thriving Farms, Thriving Future initiative has been hugely successful in bridging the connectivity divide for the first time with farmers in these African communities. In just 12 weeks, a team of 50 developers across 3 continents developed a digital platform to track the fertilizer distribution, and to offer farmers like Anastancia, half of whom are women, a first-of-its-kind resource for agronomic advice throughout the growing season. The fertilizer donation is the first of many opportunities to reach these farmers, who could gain access to financial, insurance, market and infrastructure support when additional partners join the Action Africa platform.

"The typical farmer makes 300 major decisions a year, and many of those are based on limited information,” says Svein Tore Holsether. “Yara has been developing technologies that change that. Up until recently, only the large industrial farmers had that opportunity. But now, each farmer can get critical information even on their small Nokia mobile phone. It creates the transparency that is needed in Africa.”

Handheld small mobile phone

Action Africa’s potential to enable lasting change sets it apart from traditional aid programs

Together with additional partners across the food, finance, and non-profit sectors, we can use the power of this digital connectivity to reach farmers with a range of critical resources, helping communities establish foundational and enduring security and stability far beyond the current crisis.

“Action Africa isn’t a charity program. It’s all about creating stability. We want to ensure the safe operation of markets and form long-term relationships throughout the food system,” says Svein Tore Holsether.

"Helping millions of people avert food crisis requires system-wide collaboration."

Øystein Botillen, Action Africa Project Lead

Action Africa has the potential to fundamentally transform the lives of farmers in Africa and beyond, and can mean the difference between starvation and survival. Making a positive impact on these farmers’ lives beyond a single harvest requires collaboration between governments, local communities, and dedicated public and private partners to increase access to a range of critical resources.

Action Africa partnered in Malawi with the local WFP office and Bayer to distribute premium fertilizer along with high-quality seed maize to 26,000 subsistence farmers. Collectively, this effort will feed more than 150,000 people. 

Female African farmer smiling and looking up

Yara’s relationships within local communities is a key factor in realizing the full potential of Action Africa. “We owe a lot of the progress we see now to local entrepreneurship,” says Øystein Botillen. “There is a great capacity that has inspired millions of smallholder farmers and retailers to engage in sharing knowledge and collaboratively creating a more sustainable path forward.”

“We need partnerships to sustain positive change. We cannot do it ourselves. We know that our knowledge and our products are the best you can find, but that's only one piece in a bigger puzzle. The partnership potential of the platform is great, and together we can deliver more support to more farmers.”

Øystein Botillen

“I have always imagined that the Action Africa initiative can be a catalyst for other private sector players to join in a coordinated effort to deliver better farm productivity, meet local food demand, improve farmer incomes and improve population health through better nutrition,” he says.

Two African women tilling in the farm
Two African women tilling in the farm

Get involved with Action Africa!

Learn more about the farmers, organizers and digital developers behind the initiative’s success, and find out more about becoming a partner and enabling farmers in Africa and beyond to create a thriving future.

Contact us

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Øystein Botillen
Stakeholder Relations and Business Development Manager

Oslo, Norway

Project Lead

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Marisa Soares
Director, Incubation Africa & Asia


Digital Farming Lead

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Candice Pretorius
Regional Marketing Manager BU Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

Lead Yara Africa