May 9, 2014

What is the Potential for Responsible Soy Production?

Soy awaiting processing at a plant in China

By Kedar Mankad, EcoAgriculture Partners

This year’s 9th annual Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) conference (May 7th-8th) took place at a critically important time for the industry. With relatively high prices, increasing overall demand from China, and another year of drought in palm oil production areas, the emphasis on increasing production is strong.

The question then for participants at the RTRS should have been–how can we give value chain stakeholders the tools they need to make sure that new development and existing production is responsible?

Solidaridad NetworkGebana Brasil and partners have been working for over five years on the doorstep of this year’s annual conference, Foz de Iguacu Brazil, to assist the first smallholders in Latin America to obtain RTRS certification. Globally, smallholders represent about 16% of soy production. This seemingly small number belies one important fact–that a significant portion of this production takes place in and around biodiversity-rich areas like Iguacu Falls.

Biodiversity Hotspots and Global Soy Production, overlap map.

Furthermore, many smallholders lack both the capital and necessary training to be able to incorporate some of the more complex environmental, social and economic requirements of certification schemes.

Training smallholders is no easy task, however, so Solidaridad took a stepwise approach–starting with the development of a simple farmer self-assessment tool, and then moving incrementally towards full compliance with RTRS standards. They started with basics such as no deforestation, no child labor, and no GM production. Farmers then graduated to complying with pesticide standards, protecting riparian forest and springs, proving qualifications to operate machinery and correctly registering inputs used. Solidaridad and Gebana eventually certified 163 farmers. However the overall success of these efforts are better exemplified by the over 1,000 smallholders who improved their management practices from being a part of the program, and the key insights gleaned from the multi-sector partnerships it took to achieve this outcome.

It took the persistent, coordinated efforts of producers, traders, processors, researchers, NGOs and government to generate this model for smallholders. The approach, now known as the Rural Horizons program, is being scaled and replicated in the sugar and cotton sectors.

Moving from the field to the biome level, BACP looked to the RTRS, as a multi-stakeholder initiative, to influence actors throughout the value chain. In 2010, seeing a critical gap in spatial data that could guide the expansion of certified soy, the roundtable initiated a multi-stakeholder mapping process which included producers, buyers, financial institutions, NGOs, and mapping and biodiversity conservation experts. The resulting 168 regional maps developed for the Cerrado and Amazon biomes are a major step forward. The onus is now on the RTRS Executive Board and key industry players to incorporate these into their planning processes.

The need is urgent, the tools and data are available, and the potential for scaling up responsible soy production is clearer than ever. This week’s RTRS Conference is a step towards further catalying positive change in the sector.

For a more detailed analysis of the soy, cocoa and palm oil sectors, see the new report Transforming Markets for Conservation.

Also, be sure to check into the Blog next Friday. With the 6th Indonesia International Cocoa Conference and 25th World Cocoa Foundation annual meeting taking place, I will be discussing insights from BACP’s work in the cocoa sector.

 

This post is the second in a four-part series (see the first post) highlighting the lessons learned from EcoAgriculture Partners role as Monitoring & Evaluation Unit of the Biodiversity and Agricultural Commodities Program.  These insights were collected in Transforming Markets for Conservationco-authored by Kedar Mankad, Christine Negra and Lee Gross, and published by EcoAgriculture Partners.
 
 Photo by Lee Gross/EcoAgriculture Partners

 

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