ANDREW Mackenzie's first big bet as BHP Billiton's new chief executive is on the need for more food as the global population booms, with a $2.6bn investment in Canadian fertiliser.
The news was welcomed as the Scot unveiled a poor set of full-year figures yesterday, with net profit down nearly 30 per cent to $10.9bn (£6.9bn). Revenue also slipped 8.7 per cent to just shy of $66bn as BHP showed that even being the world's biggest miner does not provide immunity from global economic problems.
BHP is also under pressure from US authorities after admitting last week that it could face charges for breaching anti-corruption regulations. In part, these relate to corporate hospitality laid on at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
However, Mr Mackenzie thawed a spending freeze at BHP by announcing that the group would invest in Jansen Potash, with the money being used to complete service shafts and install essential infrastructure.
Potash is a fertiliser that improves the quantity and quality of farming crops, a lucrative commodity that Mackenzie's predecessor, Marius Kloppers, believed was a huge opportunity. BHP said Jansen was "the world's best undeveloped resource and is capable of supporting a mine with annual capacity of 10 million tonnes for more than 50 years".