Asia: Top soy producer China host RTRS conference, for the first time

On 28 and 29 May, China is hosting the Roundtable of Responsible Soy (RTRS) annual conference under the theme; “Building Bridges for Responsible Soy.”

The China Soybean Industry Association (CSIA) together with Solidaridad China and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supported RTRS to prepare for the RT8 conference.

Solidaridad China has been paving the way for Responsible Soy in China with its local partner, the CSIA. The first RTRS certification in China is expected this year. Solidaridad works with CSIA and private partners to introduce the concept of Responsible Soy production in the country.

The Solidaridad Responsible Soy project was launched last year in the North-East of China, with the aim to improve the livelihoods of soy farmers in the region by adopting better agricultural practices and the RTRS criteria. China is the first country to cultivate soy and produced approximately 12 million tonnes in 2012/13 (USDA). The country is also the world's largest soy importer, having imported 59 million tonnes in 2012/13 (USDA). Soy is a major global commodity crop used in a wide range of consumer goods and livestock feeds.

In Heilongjiang province, the major soy production area produces more than 6.03 million tons of soy on 3,140,000 hectares of soy plantation. This accounts for about 40% of national production capacity in China in 2011. The Solidaridad soy project was launched against this background. Until now, the project activities have been carried out in Sino-Grain North, 93 Farm and one cooperative respectively. To date, Sino-Grain North has made great strides with the implementation of the project.

The certification process of the project is in progress for finalization. “If everything is going smoothly, Sino-Grain North will be the first entity to produce Responsible Soy in China,” says Rong Wei from Solidaridad China.

Production challenges experienced by farmers

There are three key challenges to soy production in this region. Firstly, farmers are shifting to other crops or migrating to big cities, due to low income which for example is less than €150 directly from soy plantation per year. Furthermore the improper usage of agricultural inputs has invariably led to inferior product quality, soil erosion and water pollution.

Great efforts have been made to get the buy-in from relevant stakeholders on different levels at project’s initial stage. The Solidaridad pilot groups, Sino-Grain North, 93 Farm and one agricultural cooperative, have pledged to join in the project to improve their agricultural practices and market status.

According to Wang Feng, General Manager of Sino-Grain North, the project will serve as an international platform for Sino-Grain North to move further towards sustainable soy production in the future.

Goals for RTRS production

Within the next three years the project plans to train around 31 000 farmers and certify 20 000 hectares for sustainable soy and increase farmer income to around €100 hectare in the North-East of China.

Solidaridad has three goals it aims to achieve through the programme: to help Sino-Grain North to apply for Responsible Soy certification, introduce Responsible Soy practicesto both 93 Farm and one selected cooperative, and identify more small-scale farmers in Nenjiang county for assistance.