Sustainable soy in Bolivia to benefit smallholders

Solidaridad, together with Bolivian partner Oilseed and Wheat Producers Association (ANAPO), has performed on February 6-7th a national interpretation of the generic standard of the international Roundtable for Responsible Soy (RTRS). Bolivia is now ready for RTRS certification. First RTRS soy is expected this harvest, March-April 2014.

Solidaridad’s role in this process has been to facilitate the creation of a National Technical Group, a multistakeholder participative body representing the whole supply chain and composed of Producers (ANAPO, 5 Estrellas Agropastoril, Small producers representative); Industry (CADEX, CAICO, APIA, Industrias Nutrioil, IBCE), Civil Society (FAN, WWF, Fundacruz, Solidaridad) and Observers (IBNORCA, Independant consultant). This Group, moderated by the RTRS, reviewed and adapted the generic RTRS standard to Bolivian legislation and national soybean sector reality in a joint committment to promote sustainable productivity and responsible management of soy.

Low productivity and environmental challenges

Soybean is the most important crop in Bolivia and one of the most important products for the country’s economy, being the harvested area in 2012 estimated at 1.055 million hectares. Despite its strategic importance, the country features the lowest productivity rate in the region and has not been able to fully satisfy the increased grain demand, as well as capitalize on sector’s growth. This is mainly due to the inefficient production practices and low productivity rates of smallholders, who account for 77% of total industry (of 14.000), in comparison to medium- and large-scale farmers.

The main cause for low productivity is insufficient access to best agricultural practices and technologies. An acute lack of technical and business skills that prevent innovation also plays a major role in this regard. The technical staff of ANAPO has started to gather information from producers to set a baseline to this.

In a kind of vicious circle, the current poor production practices, associated with soil erosion problems and physical degradation, decrease production yields that, in turn, drive the agricultural frontier to expand over tropical forests, leading to biodiversity and carbon loss. This raises a number of sustainability challenges, not only for smallholders but also medium- and large-scale farmers who lack the necessary skills and tools to systematically improve their practices.

Main goals of the soy project

In order to achieve the adoption of a more sustainable production system at farmer level through the implementation of better agricultural, business, social and environmental practices, the Solidaridad Farmer Support Programme, also with IFC (part of World Bank Group) support, has identified four objectives in Bolivia which should be accomplished in the next two years, namely:

  • Improve crop productivity (by at least 15% on average) for 450 small-scale farmers to be reached by the project;
  • Improve sustainability standards for 454 soybean smallholders of the total 2 500 producers; 
  • Ensure that at least 49 500 hectares operated by beneficiary smallholders are sustainably managed; and ensure that 20 000 hectares managed by beneficiary medium- and large-scale farmers are RTRS certified; and 
  • Build the extension service capacity of 11 technical extension officers working for ANAPO.

The National Interpretation is a milestone within the project and the showpiece of 3 years of continuous improvement using international standard requirements as scheme. It also goes to prove how producer support projects can successfully raise awareness in a whole sector regarding responsible production to build sustainable value chains.