Cristiane Lourenço and Cid Sanches

The Value of Responsible Soy

In 2006, concerned with the general conditions of production, NGOs and consumer companies in Europe began to question the way soybeans were grown. This followed a similar previous debate on palm oil discussion, a product widely consumed in the continent.

The mounting pressure on deforestation, soy traceability, and the adoption of good labor and environmental practices were among the key triggers of the discussion. As a result, the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) was established. The RTRS is an entity dedicated to certifying soybeans produced under the best principles of sustainability.

As the world’s second largest soybean grower – only behind the USA – and a leading soybean exporter, Brazil has benchmark status in the global soy market. More than 114 million tons of soy bean were harvested in Brazil in the 2016/2017 crop season. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture of the total harvest, 64 million tons (56%) were sold abroad. This strong market position has made local farmers invest in good agricultural practices to keep up with the requirements and grow sustainably. International organizations such as RTRS are helping farmers meet standards established in different countries. In this interview, Cid Sanches, RTRS consultant, and Cristiane Lourenço, Sustainability & Food Chain Partnership manager at Bayer Brazil, discuss the importance of certification in the soy industry.

Cristiane Lourenço, Sustainability & Food Chain Partnership Manager, Bayer Brazil
Cristiane Lourenço, Sustainability & Food Chain Partnership Manager, Bayer Brazil
Cristiane Lourenço, Sustainability & Food Chain Partnership Manager, Bayer Brazil

1) Cristiane Lourenço – In recent years, we have seen a growing concern in society about the origin of agricultural products and how they are produced. In this context, how important is certified soy?

Cid Sanches – Soybean works a little different from non-industrialized products sold directly to end consumers. Soybean goes through several industrial processes and suppliers before it reaches the consumer’s table. Nonetheless, we clearly see an increasing demand from society to trace and identify the source of soybeans. Consumers have become more demanding and less tolerant of inadequate agricultural practices. In that context, the role at RTRS is to show soy farmers the right way to grow their crops, how to adopt good agricultural practices and positively contribute to achieve a sustainable soybean production worldwide. In doing so, we hope to encourage and reward farmers who correctly apply these initiatives.

2) Cristiane Lourenço – According to the RTRS standards, what defines a responsible soy production process?

Cid Sanches – RTRS certification ensures that soybean, either as a raw material or as a by-product, originates from an environmentally correct, socially equitable and economically feasible process. We can´t distinguish, either visually or nutritionally, soybeans that come from a certified farm from those from a non-certified source. The difference is mostly associated to compliance with legal requirements and obligations, environmental laws, neighboring communities, etc. Farmers who grow soy responsibly maintain an open dialogue with their local community and are expected to create opportunities for production training, around the use of fertilizers and sharing machinery related know-how. Farmers are required to prove that good agricultural standards are in place and are being adopted (e.g., no tillage planting and crop rotation). Since July 2016, in order to be certified farms also have to demonstrate they are committed to zero deforestation.

Cid Sanches, Consultant, Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS)
Cid Sanches, Consultant, Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS)
Cid Sanches,
Consultant, Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS)

3) Cristiane Lourenço – Of course, farmers can reap many benefits from the certification, not only assume obligations. Which benefits would you highlight as the most salient?

Cid Sanches – First of all, farmers can have a much more efficient crop management as a result of the better farm organization provided by RTRS. In addition, guided by the principles of the certification, these farmers are not at risk of labor related law suits or environmental fines. A certified farm is inspected by a regulatory body, all the documents are likely to be found compliant with regulations. Also worth mentioning, is that RTRS certification allows farmers to make money in two ways: through physical sales (where grains are sold) and soy credits sales (a sort of additional bonus for farmers who produce sustainably). For instance, if a farmer produces 1,000 tons of soy, they will be entitled to 1,000 credits and such credits may be traded through the RTRS platform. Organizations interested in contributing to the a more sustainable production, even if they are not direct consumers, as well as companies that use soy or soy by-products in their own products, can acquire these credits and publicly state their commitment to responsible soy production.

4) Cristiane Lourenço – How has working together with the agri-industry helped foster responsible soybean production in Brazil?

Cid Sanches – Working with the industry is a critical factor to foster certification and bring benefits to farmers. In Brazil, I can point out the RTRS partnership with Bayer. Farmers who buy Bayer products are awarded points under a customer loyalty program [“Rede AgroServices”]. These points may be exchanged for benefits, such as consulting services or adjustments farmers may need to implement to qualify for a RTRS certification (such as changes in the management of equipment and facilities of the farm, modifications in the storage of new and used agrochemical containers). I think our partnership with companies such as Bayer will be the way business will be done the future, since they assist farmers to achieve increased efficiency, productivity and the ability to farm sustainably.

5) Cristiane Lourenço –  At Bayer, we also think that partnering in this kind of initiatives is very important; especially in Brazil, a country that has become a benchmark in RTRS certification, would you agree?

Cid Sanches – Quite true. Brazil is a global success case. According to RTRS data, 3.1 million tons of certified soy was produced worldwide in 2016. Of this, 2.2 million tons (70%) came from Brazil. We expect to reach a total production of 4 million tons this year, and 3 million will be produced in Brazil – ranking fourth place among the leading countries in soybean production. Chile is the newest buyer. Argentina’s soy certified production is growing. Today, only around 12 countries around the world buy certified soy. It is clear the RTRS still has a long way to go.

6) Cristiane Lourenço –  What are the key challenges to increase the number of RTRS certified farmers?

Cid Sanches – In my view, our main challenge is to grow globally and be able to reach more Asian and Middle Eastern countries. I believe we are ready to meet the growing demand and actively contribute to an increasing request for certified soy production. Our goal is to reach 10 million tons of certified soy by 2020, which would meet most of the demand from European buyers. We are working hard to ensure that soy sustainable production principles are broadly adopted.

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