July 21, 2015

From vision to action, responsible soy is now on the map

Verónica Chorkulak Jimena Couto, Round Table on Responsible Soy

Biodiversity loss is more than just a hot topic. It is climate change, habitat destruction, global warming, endangered species… a complete change in the world we live in, and therefore, in the way we live it.

As the world’s population keeps growing, we pressure the planet’s resources. There are more mouths to feed and more people to accommodate, but somehow the available space is the same as before. What started happening? More room was made. In place of forests, species, and in some cases entire ecosystems, human development took root. Some would claim that we have exhausted the planet, but it is never too late to turn things around.

In the face of enormous challenges, creativity flourishes

It would not be fair to blame it all on the expansion of soy production. There are other crops and even other industries that are drivers of land conversion. But denying its implications would not be accurate, either. The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) decided to do something about it. Producers, industry, and national and international conservation organizations joined forces to think about the best way to guide responsible soy expansion while promoting the conservation of biodiversity in producing countries. Multiple perspectives needed to reach consensus. It was a long and challenging process, but the results were equally as rewarding.

At the beginning of 2010, a temporary agreement between all the stakeholders was signed by RTRS Members. This consensus marked a decision, on behalf of the RTRS Members, to restrict soy expansion in forests and required the development of zoning tools for other ecosystems. Although a critical first step, this was only a precautionary measure. This compelled the need to create more categorical mechanisms in the mid-term to define responsible soy production and simultaneously safeguard natural ecosystems.

It was the beginning of the RTRS Mapping Project. RTRS committed to develop macro-scale maps for Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay to identify and preserve ecosystems and High Conservation Value Areas (HCVAs), as well as identify opportunities for responsible expansion with low environmental impact levels. Two years later, the process started in Brazil, followed by Paraguay in 2013.

All of these processes were characterized by a theme central to the work of RTRS: as a multi-stakeholder initiative. The input of experts, representing all levels of the supply chain, was taken into account in the formation of Technical Working Groups. Each group was led by local coordinators and supported by GIS companies and advisory groups, as well as BACP (IFC), IDH, 3Fi, WWF, and The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, who were the main funders of this project. All of the voices in the soy supply chain were present, engaged in a collaborative effort to discuss, share knowledge, and reach a consensus on what is best for the planet. An interesting exercise, isn’t it?

Every tree has a green lining

The RTRS maps are a powerful visual tool to identify critical areas for conservation and guide the activities of the soy industry in Latin America.

The RTRS Maps are a powerful visual tool to identify critical areas for conservation and guide the activities of the soy industry in Latin America.

The results are now tangible. In fact, they can even be mapped. This tool consists of a series of maps identifying and classifying areas according to the environmental risk. On the maps are five distinguishable zones:

  • “No Go Areas” where there should be no conversion for soy production (in red);
  • “No Go Areas” which have been converted after the RTRS cutoff date (May 2009) (in purple);
  • areas where expansion of soy is only carried out after an HCVA assessment which identifies areas for conservation and areas where expansion can occur (in yellow);
  • areas where expansion is possible following legal requirements (in light green); and
  • areas where there was already soy or other extensive crop operation before May 2009.

The maps will be used in conjunction with HCVAs identification guides, which give procedures and recommendations for the identification of HCVA in situ for those producers falling in Category 2. These guides contain the requirements for the collection and analyses of the components of physical, biotic and anthropic environments existing in the areas to be analyzed and are adapted to the specific characteristics of each country where RTRS maps where developed.

It is never too late to make a change

And RTRS did something about it. RTRS stepped up to the enormous challenge of addressing human-driven land degradation by creating this new tool. The maps are a powerful aid to stop reckless expansion and help preserve biodiversity. By forming preventative action, as opposed to reactionary initiatives, the RTRS is helping to stop climate change and the destruction of key habitats, slow global warming from the release of stored carbon, and give endangered species a chance at survival. This marks a meaningful change in how we treat the world we live in, and therefore, the way we live it.

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The Round Table on Responsible Soy was founded as a global multi-stakeholder platform in 2006 to specifically address the negative impacts of soy cultivation by developing, implementing, and verifying a global Standard for Responsible Soy. Over 180 members have already joined RTRS and are committed to its mission. In 2014, a total of 1.3 million tonnes of responsible soy was purchased by a number of companies from different countries and sectors, an all-time record.

Biodiversity and Agricultural Commodities Program aims to reduce threats posed by commodity agriculture to biodiversity of global importance.

To learn more about BACP, Responsible Soy, and promoting sustainability in commodity supply chains: Transforming Markets for Conservation

Verónica Chorkulak serves the Round Table on Responsible Soy, RTRS by managing market development activities, such as promoting the various ways RTRS engages its partners, creating avenues to distribute available tools, and coordinating regional projects and working groups.
Jimena Couto is the Communications Analyst and assists in managing internal and external communications for the initiaive. For questions on RTRS, please contact: info@responsiblesoy.org.

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