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Soya on the table – inside the RTRS

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Today’s guest blogger, on the subject of soya/soy, is Cassio Franco Moreira (PhD Agroecology), who is head of WWF Brazil’s agriculture and environment programme, and represents WWF on the RTRS – Round Table on Responsible Soy.

“It’s fair to say I know quite a bit about certification schemes for agriculture. I have a small family-run organic coffee plantation in the south of Minas Gerais state, Brazil so I’m very familiar with what it’s like for a farmer jumping through hoops to achieve a recognised certification for responsible crop production. At the same time, I help make those hoops for other farmers and producers…

Cassio Franco Moreira, WWF Brazil, in the field © WWFCassio Franco Moreira, WWF Brazil, in the field © WWF

A big part of my day job is representing WWF and its global soy strategy, which has RTRS as a vital part of it. This non-profit organisation represents all sorts of people with an interest in the soy industry – including growers, traders, buyers and conservationists.

They’ve come together and created standards that will – if mainstreamed across the soy industry – significantly improve key issues like worker’s rights and deforestation.

Even though I’ve been involved in creating and promoting RTRS standards, would you be surprised if I say I still don’t think they go far enough? When it comes to protecting this living planet, they’re just the minimum requirement. Maybe this is not so surprising, after all “WWF wants tougher standards to protect the environment” is hardly an unexpected headline.

And yet a lot of the farmers I meet – smallholders and large-scale producers – say the RTRS requirements are already too tough.

What this probably means is that, for now, we’ve struck the right balance. The standards need to be high enough to make a positive difference, but not so high that large parts of the industry won’t engage with them, or see them as unattainable.

It needs to be something taken up on a large scale, globally, so it really transforms the industry.

We’re pleased that important issues have been included, such as prohibiting expansion into native forest, and the certification of non-GM soy. But it’s no secret that it doesn’t include all our ‘asks’.

At times it seems a Herculean task to reach any consensus among the 150 (and growing) RTRS member companies and organisations of all sizes, missions and nationalities. When you sit around the table with people from different walks of life you see the challenges they face, and why.

For example, as a Brazilian I can understand the drive toward economic development coming from soy producers in my country. But as an environmentalist, I can’t accept that forests or other valuable ecosystems should be sacrificed for soy.

I believe the RTRS is a crucial part of the solution in Brazil and beyond, as it is the best mainstream standard around for responsible soy. But we know it’s not enough on its own. It’s crucial to have strong legislation that prevents irresponsible expansion and deforestation – that’s why we’re fighting hard to keep Brazil’s Forest Code strong. And we need to promote more efficient and sustainable land use, and that includes expanding soy production onto degraded lands and low-productivity pastures, which will help us meet the world’s growing demand for soy without having to cut down forests or savannahs.

The RTRS is a positive way for all organisations affected by soy to be part of the solution. But continuous improvement and strengthening is key. The more soy producers join RTRS, and the more certified soy that’s available, the more consumers will have the choice to eat meat fed with responsible soy.

Sometimes it feels like a long way from my family-run farm in the hills – and this journey’s not over yet.”

(Watch our short film on ‘Soya and the Cerrado‘, and find out how you can eat more sustainably.)

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