African Green Revolution Conference 2007
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

African Green Revolution Conference 2007

Norwegian mineral fertiliser company Yara has been doing business in Africa for 25 years.

Paul Holmes

Norwegian mineral fertiliser company Yara has been doing business in Africa for 25 years. In 2005 it responded to the UN’s call for the private sector to help African farmers increase productivity by setting up the Yara Foundation, with an annual conference and prize awarded to African entrepreneurs. In 2007 the company asked Weber Shandwick to help it put the African Green Revolution conference on the international development community’s map, and ensure it was recognised as a credible event. The team overcame NGO resistance to private sector initiatives and the conference was a phenomenal success: it attracted participation from the world’s leading experts, demonstrated that the private sector has a clear role to play in helping small-scale farmers move out of poverty and hunger, and resulted in 18 African agriculture ministers signing a declaration on action to take to improve their countries’ agricultural productivity.



Africa is the only continent where food production per capita has fallen in the last four decades. With an anticipated increase in Africa’s population from around 850 million in 2006 to more than 1.8 billion in 2050, a major increase in agricultural productivity is vital so small-scale farmers across Africa lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. In 2004, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan challenged the private sector to help create a “green revolution” in Africa: increasing agricultural productivity and food production. His call was echoed by the UN’s Millennium Project, Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, and the Norwegian Government.


Yara International ASA is the world’s leading supplier of plant nutrients in the form of mineral fertilisers, an essential ingredient in modern agriculture. Yara, based in Oslo, is the only global fertilizer player with a presence in Africa – 10% of its business is generated there – and has been involved in the development of the continent's agriculture for more than 25 years. Yara was the first company to respond to Kofi Annan’s call for action, underlining its commitment to Africa in its centenary year, 2005, by setting up the Yara Foundation.


The Foundation’s main purpose is to award the annual Yara Prize to recognise exceptional efforts to reduce hunger and poverty in Africa, which is awarded at the company’s Africa Green Revolution Conference. The Yara Prize was set up to support small scale entrepreneurs who are breaking new ground in developing agri-businesses in their local markets. Winners return to their countries with US$100,000 for their projects.


In 2007, the company decided to carry out PR around the conference and the prize for the first time, and hired Weber Shandwick to publicise the event in Norway, and internationally, as well as getting support for the initiative from the wider development community. One of the biggest challenges the team had to overcome was scepticism from environmental and development NGOs towards any African initiative driven by the private sector.



Desktop research identified key media outlets and potential partnerships with NGOs and businesses. As experienced advisers in this area, Weber Shandwick recognised the need to gain credibility with the “Africa club” of specialists through mainstream media. In turn, journalists would only see Yara as credible if it successfully engaged development practitioners. This unique specialist community of journalists and commentators speaks with unquestionable authority on African issues and their buy-in to new initiatives is virtually indispensable. Gaining their support helped position Yara as the key corporate player and facilitator with regards to what is slowly becoming a truly African Green Revolution.


The objectives of the campaign were:

           Demonstrate to other private sector players that investing in Africa’s productivity is good business: that it is possible to combine a commitment to sustainable development and the fight against poverty with commercial objectives

           Achieve support and buy-in from the international development community for public-private partnerships as valuable and credible contributors to the “African Green Revolution”.

           Achieve quality

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