Carina Von Baer - 09 Sep 08

Carina Von Baer - 09 Sep 08

Peter Day hears from a young Chilean entrepreneur working hard in the agricultural sector to bring life to, and adding value in, an old, often slow to move, industry.

Karina Von Baer is founder and CEO of Oleotop S.A. in Chile which produces rapeseed oil as a foodstuff for the salmon industry.

She's also director of a seed production company and one specialising in the standardisation and storage of wheat grain.

All the companies she leads are dedicated to improving the agricultural processes in the south of Chile, and her family have been doing business there for many years, trying to make a difference to their region and contributing to its growth.

About this programme by Peter Day

We're back in Monte Carlo at the Global Entrepreneur of the Year awards for this week's Global Business, because of the rich seam of ideas there is to be mined there.

(The international business services firm Ernst and Young has been organising these awards for some years. 44 country winners gathered in Monte Carlo earlier this year for the global award, and we just tried to grab an interview with a selection of the most interesting winners.)

One of the things you quickly learn is that good ideas are not just the preserve of countries international celebrated for business innovation. Ideas can crop up everywhere, and they are often stimulated by difficulties and hardships.

This week's interviewee is Karina Von Baer, from Chile.

She's only 35, one of the youngest country winners I've met.

She grew up in a depressed part of Chile, where the main activity agriculture put farmers constantly at the risk of global price swings, to say nothing of the weather.

Karina von Baer was troubled by this, so a few years ago she started two agriculture companies which give farmers more opportunities.

Granotop specilises in the standardisation and storage of grain, ensuring that less of the farm crop is wasted, a horrible problem in many developing parts of the world.

Oleotop buys the relatively new crop, rape, from surrounding farners turns it into rapeseed oil, or canola.

This is a useful feed for the big Chilean salmon farming industry, and it gives farmers a premium price above traditional crops.

Karina Von Baer explains that in farming, every little bit of specialisation helps to edge a farmer away from an impotent reliance on market forces.

With vigour and enthuasism, she has used her training in agriculture to find niche markets and redefine them for ordinary farmers.

This is a lesson farming all over the world is having to learn, though the recent surge in food prices may distract farmers who are suddenly pleased with the extra returns they are getting from almost whatever they grow.

Farming finds it difficult to escape from the ups and downs of what used to be called the "hog cycle".

When pork prices rises, pig farmers add more stock, and hope to cash in on the higher prices.

But of course the increased stock herds bring down the prices as soon as their meat comes to the market.

It's a rollercoaster ride, and it has been since the seven fat years and the seven lean years in the Bible.

By thinking this through, Karina von Baer has produced two new businesses that tackle rural needs, to make a profit.

And the poverty that lurks down on the farms is turning it from The Way Things Are, into an opportunity waiting to happen.

Contributors to the programme:

Karina Von Baer, CEO Oleotop S.A.