Punching Above Our Weight:
How a Tiny Island in the Caribbean is Helping Feed the World

By Mario Singh 
The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited


A s one of the largest exporters of ammonia in the world, Trinidad and Tobago, despite its diminutive size of the country, plays a significant role in feeding the ever-growing global population. 

Eleven world-scale ammonia production plants, with a collective capacity of 5.2 million tonnes per year, place the nation among the top exporters of ammonia globally, competing with industrial giants such as China, Russia, India, the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, serves as a critical raw material in the production of fertilisers. Nitrogenous fertilisers, derived from ammonia, are crucial for enhancing soil fertility and promoting plant growth. Trinidad’s ammonia output plays a pivotal role in the global fertiliser industry. In 2021, Trinidad and Tobago exported $748 million worth of nitrogenous fertilisers, ranking as the 15th largest exporter globally. In that year, the main destinations of nitrogenous fertiliser exports from T&T were the US, Colombia, France, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. 

The Global Impact of Nitrogen on Food Security
Nitrogenous fertilisers produced from ammonia significantly increase global food production. While it is difficult to pin down exactly how many people are fed as a result of the use of nitrogenous fertilisers, it is estimated that it is about half of the world’s population today.

According to the IEA (2021), “Ammonia makes an indispensable contribution to global agricultural systems through its use for fertilisers. Ammonia is the starting point for all mineral nitrogen fertilisers, forming a bridge between the nitrogen in the air and the food we eat. About 70% of ammonia is used for fertilisers, while the remainder is used for various industrial applications, such as plastics, explosives and synthetic fibres.” 

In fact, any disruption in ammonia output from Trinidad and Tobago could exacerbate an already vulnerable global food production system. The war in Ukraine, the stresses of climate change on water availability and variability, and the increasing prevalence of pests and diseases, have all converged to drive up food inflation, reducing overall agricultural productivity, and worsen food insecurity in regions already grappling with the challenges of feeding growing populations. 

By continuing to reliably and efficiently produce and supply the raw materials for fertilisers in a stable geopolitical environment, Trinidad and Tobago acts as a steadying hand in a delicately balanced global food supply system. 

Decarbonising Ammonia Production
Unfortunately, ammonia production is also one of the most carbon-intensive industries, accounting for approx. 2% of total final energy consumption, and contributing 1.3% of CO2 emissions from the global energy system. The direct emissions from ammonia production are currently estimated to be 450 million tonnes of CO2, making it an emissions-intensive process. According to the IEA (2021): “Ammonia … is nearly twice as emissions-intensive as crude steel production and four times that of cement, on a direct CO2 emissions basis”.

The dilemma is that the use of ammonia as a key component in fertiliser production is expected to grow to meet the demand for food, while at the same time, the urgency of reducing global carbon emissions is intensifying. 

Innovative approaches, such as the adoption of greener technologies like green and blue ammonia production , and carbon capture, storage and utilisation  (CCUS) to reduce the carbon intensity of ammonia production, will help secure a more sustainable pathway for meeting the growing demand for food globally. 

Trinidad and Tobago is well positioned to leverage its existing infrastructure in ammonia production to deploy a transition strategy to a lower carbon model that could help the world meet its emissions reduction targets while growing more food sustainably.

 1Green and blue ammonia production represent innovative approaches to ammonia synthesis with a focus on reducing carbon emissions, contributing to sustainability in the chemical industry. Green and blue ammonia production methods aim to address the environmental impact of conventional ammonia synthesis. While green ammonia relies on clean hydrogen from renewable sources, blue ammonia integrates carbon capture technologies into the production process, allowing for more sustainable and environmentally friendly ammonia production.
 2Carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) is an approach aimed at mitigating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from various industrial processes and power generation. The process involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions, utilising the captured CO2 for productive purposes, and safely storing it to prevent its release into the atmosphere.


Mario Singh is the Assistant Manager - Sustainability at The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited