Profit and Protection in Perfect Harmony
Cargill’s relatively small salt company on Bonaire, with 45 workers and five to fifteen contractors, produces 200,000 to 500,000 megatons of salt a year. Most of the high quality, 99.7% pure Bonairean salt is exported all over the world and is used in multiple ways. One third of its stock goes to the United States for softening water, another one third goes to the Caribbean and Latin American market for industrial or chemical purposes and Europe processes one third further for domestic use. Only a small portion of the salt is sold locally in ten or 25 kilo bags.
The colorful beauty of the solar salt works, which extend all the way from the salt manufacturing ponds to the tourist-attracting salt mountains and the salt pier, might suggest that it is a simple and easy business. But turning seawater into salt is not all a bed of roses. There are a lot of challenges along the way.
It takes only six to eight months with favorable elements such as the wind and sun to speed up the production process that starts with seawater entering the flats and ends with the harvest of the salt crystals. But the company’s main assistant in this process is hardly predictable and has a rather capricious character. The growing salt crystals have one not so favorable, if not to say natural, enemy – Bonaire’s beloved rain. Rain can easily undo all the hard work men and nature provide or delay the process. Another challenge is the ocean freight charges that move up or down according to demand. All of the machines, such as bulldozers, front end loaders, pumps, trucks and tractors and their spare parts need to be imported. It is the same for parts of the pier that need replacement and which must be shipped out of Houston. The combination of salty air, the wind and the sun make the machines and instruments corrode faster, even though the plant has a special cleaning and washing program to prevent it.
The balancing of inventory, export and sales, mainly done by Cargill’s department in the States, becomes a very challenging job when you have to make sure a ship arrives at exactly the right time. One must be able to predict the future and the weather, fix parts before they fail and monitor and plan the production process carefully. And then there is the competition from Chili, Mexico and the Bahamas which forces the salt company to control the costs and be as cost effective and efficient as possible. It is one of the reasons why the Cargill Company is continuously training its people on new technologies in the market, finding ways to reduce fuel consumption and decrease the use of electricity. However big these challenges, Cargill Salt Company Bonaire has two major advantages that leave all the others in the shadow – its capable and talented personnel and the best quality salt there is. These two make what seems to be a relatively risky business a steady and profitable one.
“Producing solar salt is just like farming. During a bad month we do everything we can to make our crop grow so we can harvest and export it. It is the best job ever!”
Commitment and social awareness
“It’s all about the people and their skills”, notes Rimmey when he is talking about the success and vision of Cargill Bonaire. “You have to give your people opportunities to become the best they can, to outshine.”
He does so by facilitating and coordinating training programs on a behavioral and technical level, by stimulating engagement and ownership and by guiding them towards the vision of a 2020 Cargill. One of the main components of this vision and the seven guiding principles of Cargill is commitment. This commitment doesn’t only involve engagement in the company and its success, but also entails social awareness. That is why Cargill Bonaire invests a considerable amount of its profits into nutrition, education, and environment on Bonaire. Examples of these three are the donations and time invested in the food bank, sponsorship of the Junior Rangers of STINAPA (an environmental organization), the future environmental leaders as Rimmey calls them, and STCB, the protector of sea turtles. Cargill supports ECHO and its planting of trees to protect and nurture Bonaire’s endangered yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot (lora) and the pollination project of STINAPA by building a structure to facilitate. Yet the most important and biggest accomplishment in the environmental area might well be the salt company’s 40-hectare flamingo sanctuary and the creation of special tern “love and breed islands” on their property.
While being the symbol and absolute divas of Bonaire, flamingos are easily scared and once disturbed might never return to their nesting site.
Since Bonaire is one of four nesting sites left in the western hemisphere, the flamingos need protection.
By taking them under their wing, Cargill Bonaire offered these divas of Bonaire an isolated piece of their land close to the Pekelmeer.
This salt lake is one of the five designated wetlands of Bonaire that fall under the protection of the international Ramsar Convention. The company proudly took on the responsibility of keeping people and dogs away from the sanctuary; monitoring and counting the population and maintains the ideal water level for the divas’ special diet and mud to nest.
“Protecting the planet is part of our duty.”
The tern “love and breed islands” came into being when research showed that the tern population, of which some species are endangered as well, was diminishing on Bonaire. The terns were nesting on the roads where Cargill’s trucks drove carrying salt. To prevent further disturbance, Cargill and some environmental organizations sat together and came up with a plan to create safe and secured areas for them to breed. The plan and approach has been successful because thanks to these “love and breed islands”, the tern population on Bonaire is increasing.
For plant manager Gary Rimmey it was just the right thingto do: “Protecting the planet is part of our duty.”