Soy producers talk about the pros and cons of getting certified

Solidaridad and Gebana held Tuesday, 6 of May, in Foz do Iguaçu (PR) a meeting for recently certified soybean producers. Solidaridad’ International Soy Programme Coordinator, Gert van der Bijl, stressed the role of producers in this complex business chain that encompasses so many stakeholders. “The producer is the one that makes the difference”, he states. “Solidaridad is fully committed to supporting them in shifting into a more responsible production”. Most of those presents chose organic production despite the difficulties small producers face to keep down this track. Organized around the Association of Family Agro-producers, they have improved their profits selling organics and non-GM. To these producers, the RTRS certification implies the possibility of a better standard of living.

The project received support from Coopafi, a smallholder cooperative, Stichting Doen, Friesland Campina, ARLA Netherlands. Keurslagers, Soypsi program and Biodiversity and Agricultural Commodites Program (BACP) from IFC. Almost a hundred invitees joined to celebrate the certification of 163 small soy producers from Southwestern Brazil and large commercial farmers from all over South America. “For Solidaridad and Gebana, it is a pride to be able to declare that farmers are doing their part, which is producing soy in a responsible way”, says Harry van der Vliet, programme manager at Solidaridad REC SAM. “The capacity to deliver RTRS certified soy is almost 500.000 hectares now and 250.000 more are on their way only in Brazil”.

Reaching this level wasn’t easy at all. Marcio Challiol, a Gebana agro manager, addressed the difficulties faced by rural properties eager to be sustainable. Nevertheless, they have overcome them with significant results. Among them:

  • registry and better control of activities on the farm,
  • property organization,
  • better and more efficient criteria for fertilizer use,
  • identification of non-compliances with local laws and awareness of accidents prone to happen at work. 

‘We consider ourselves heroes because it’s a tough job to stay organic, get certified and conquer consumers”, remarks the small producer Alberto Fritzen.

A market that needs to be developed: uncertainties and action

Juliana Lopes, Maggi Sustainability Director, has experienced a double process of certification: that of the agribusiness group itself and that of 54 partners. Nowadays the group properties produce 180 thousand tons of certified soy while their partners contribute to 320 thousand tons. Recalling the whole process, she insisted that the first producers to adhere to RTRS were heavily influenced by the relationship the company built with them. “They were aware of the socio-environmental issues, but our relationship had a heavy weight too”, she says. “It has to be said that the market is still unclear for all of them”.

Alex Ehrenhaus, RTRS president since last July, put forward that their main goal for the current year is to increase the certified surface and to ship 1 million tons to European ports, 30% more than last year. With China demand growing, “to Europe, buying RTRS certified soy means securing a product that is social and environmentally sustainable”, he says. On the other side, having incentives in mind, the RTRS announced that producers won’t have to pay the fee to be certified until they sell the totality of their certificates. He strongly believes that the group he works for, Los Grobo, won’t hesitate to certify 100% of its surface, against the 20% or 30% currently certified with this measure. Paying for certification after sales is the bet.