Solidaridad partners help small soy farmers meet international criteria

30 January 2018

An innovative partnership has, for the first time, helped small and medium-scale soy growers in Goias, Brazil to receive certification from the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), the foremost international standard for sustainable soybean farming, generally adopted only by large-scale farmers in that state.

Cresol team with RTRS representative in Brazil Cid Sanches

The progress was the result of combined efforts from the rural co-op Cresol, the Belgium-based company Colruyt, and NGOs Trias and Solidaridad. Together, they carried out a project that led to the certification (in August 2017) of 30,125 tons of soybeans produced by 18 small and medium-scale farmers in the region of Silvânia and Orizona, Goias. This was achieved through creative solutions to meet RTRS criteria under financial conditions that are more limited for these producers than those of large farms.

The initiative has completely changed management of the farms, establishing a sort of “before and after” scenario in terms of agricultural, social, environmental and economic practices.

The project started in 2016, when Cresol – Brazil’s largest Farm Lending Cooperative System – and the Belgian NGO Trias invited Solidaridad to train the co-op’s technicians to adapt their production processes to RTRS requirements.

Until that time, Cresol, as a lending institution, had been unable to offer assistance on sustainable practices in soy farming. “It was very good. We needed to clean up the house, and the co-op advanced tremendously in this process,” said Leni de Sousa, soy farmer and director of Cresol.

Smallholder soy farmer receiving RTRS Certificate and cheque

Education is the first step

The first initiative was to hold a workshop conducted by Solidaridad to enable the Cresol team to understand the RTRS standards and to carry out the certification work as a group. In addition to theoretical preparation, supplemented by practical classes, actions in the field were also targeted for implementing the changes. Communication channels between Solidaridad and Cresol technicians were created to provide guidance during project execution.

Initially there were many cases of non-compliance on the farms. “There was a shed containing pesticides, oil and tools all mixed together; an oil tank with no containment; empty pesticide packages; used engine oil stored for many years on farm. Each of these issues was resolved with low-cost infrastructure organization and improvements,” said Cresol Technician Maurício Soares.

Before

After

Shared learning and innovative solutions

Many of the certification requirements are resolved on large farms through heavy investments, so it was necessary to find creative solutions to provide the same results to small- and medium-scale soybean farmers. Brazilian legislation and the RTRS standard have very rigorous requirements. For example, for usage and handling of fuels, it requires the construction of a fuel station, but the small- and medium-scale farmers cannot afford to do so, explained Harry van der Vliet, Manager of Soy, Cotton and Dairy Cattle projects for Solidaridad in Brazil. “In this case, the growers waterproofed the flooring and created a storage room with a containment wall and sand to prevent leaks. Thus, they were able to fully comply with statutory requirements and the certifier’s demands in this regard,” he added.

Another fairly common case prior to the project was the storage of pesticides in improper locations. “Among the solutions, some growers started to use an adapted shipping container, which ensures proper storage and offers solutions such as ventilation mechanisms and isolation of the products. Others have transformed the place where they used to store horse tack, for example,” Van der Vliet said.

The adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) by the co-op’s farmers was also significant. Under the guidance of the technicians, and supported by Embrapa Researcher Edson Hiroshi, the farmers began to monitor the pests and diseases in their crops, and started chemical control only when the results reached the level of economic damage. By doing so, they managed to reduce pesticide use to just four to five sprayings, thereby increasing the crop’s profitability and reducing environmental impact.

Colruyt cheque being handed over to Cresol

Certification brings better opportunities

For De Sousa of Cresol, certification is a major achievement. “It wasn’t easy to approach growers, because they didn’t see any need for certification. But they realized that if they organized themselves into a co-op, they would really cut down on costs and enjoy other benefits. Many investments have been made for the adaptations required by the RTRS, but there is also the added bonus: Investment helps a lot.” She also highlighted awareness-raising about the environmental aspect of farms, and how important certification is in creating this commitment.

“Any kind of project will only move forward if we all join hands,” said Gisele Obara, director of Trias in Brazil, at the certification ceremony, stressing the joining of efforts to achieve the desired results. Trias was the institution that bankrolled the work. The project is rounded out by the participation of the Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt, which purchased the 30,125 tons of certified soybeans, providing a bonus of R$ 300,000, divided among the 18 growers that presented the best results in complying with RTRS criteria. Efforts are ongoing to enroll more producers into the programme.

Certification has changed farm management, guided the adoption of good practices, and stimulated the development of creative and economically viable solutions for soy farmers.

Learn more about Solidaridad programmes for sustainable soy.

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