The first group of family farmers in Latin America to be certified for responsible soy by the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) is located in the southwest of Paraná state, Brazil, around the world famous Iguaçu Falls, a biodiversity hotspot of the Atlantic rainforest. The 163 smallholders make their living from mixed farming systems in which soy is the main cash crop.
Due to their modest income, small property sizes and reliance on family labour, they all fall within the criteria established by the government, namely, to be categorized as, Family Farmers in Brazil. Solidaridad Network, Coopafi and Gebana Brasil are lead partners of this project which proves that small-scale soy producers can unlock the environmental, social and economic benefits of responsible production.
The obstacles to certification faced by these small-scale producers were at times difficult to overcome, but after five years of hard work, supporting these soy smallholders in their journey has paid off and resulted in them becoming the first family farmers in Latin America to achieve the RTRS certification and international recognition. Their annual journey consisted of yearly additions in the number of criteria each farmer had to comply with. It started with the basics, such as:
- No deforestation;
- No slave or child labour (on request of the market);
- and only non-GM soy production by the family farmers.
Over the five years it geared up to include requirements such as full legal compliance, ending the use of a series of dangerous pesticides, protecting riparian forest and springs, proven qualification to operate machinery and correct registry of inputs used. Although some participants dropped out of the project along the way, each year also saw new farmers join the certification process. Producers who managed to incorporate the additional required criteria earned a 7euro/ton premium on their soy.
Adapting to new production systems
The farmers received various trainings to adapt their production systems; and changed their practices resulting in better care of their environment. Reasons for farmers to drop out or to join late have mostly to do with the dynamic context of the project, e.g.: the fast growth of GM production in the region, the increase in labour cost, a new forestry code and the annual increasing number of criteria to comply with.
Producing soy is challenging and adapting the system to national legislation and international standards in a highly dynamic environment is not easy. As such, farmers went through a step-by-step process in order to build up their own capacity. The rate and pace of adaption, among others, depended on family composition, education level, access to capital, persistence, experience and how quickly and consistently a producer will make the required adaptations. While it is unlikely that the level of premiums paid to these farmers will be sustained for RTRS certificates in the near future, the generous and loyal support of private sector sponsors Keurslagers, FrieslandCampina and Arla Foods made it possible to provide continuous support to producers.
The 163 smallholders can be described as true “conquistadores” of this unique process. They joined a select group of producers until now composed only of large scale soy producers such as Grupo Maggi, Los Grobo and Ceagro, who managed to meet the international soy standard. While the volume of soy produced by these smallholders is not much in comparison the big companies, acquiring certification now makes it possible for these Brazilian farmers to unlock all benefits of responsible production for their families and communities.
The project of supporting soy farmers to reach RTRS certification level is a joint effort between Coopafi, gebana Brasil and Solidaridad Network, with the generous support of private partners Keurslagers, FrieslandCampina and Arla Foods. The project is further made possible by the Biodiversity in Agricultural Commodities Program and Agency NL of the Government of the Netherlands.