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EU and Brazilian players act to foster 'more sustainable' soy production and trade

By Jane Byrne

24-Jan-2017
Last updated on 26-Jan-2017 at 10:31 GMT2017-01-26T10:31:10Z

Benchmarking of Soja Plus will allow independent verification of soy producers in that program for any third party in the EU seeking such transparency: FEFAC.© istock
Benchmarking of Soja Plus will allow independent verification of soy producers in that program for any third party in the EU seeking such transparency: FEFAC.© istock

A new “cooperation agreement” sees the setting up, for the first time, of a formal working relationship between Brazilian soy producers and key European soy purchasers.

AproSoja and ABIOVE, groups representing Brazilian soy producers, along with the EU soy chain partners, FEDIOL, FEFAC and sustainable trade initiative, the IDH, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Lisbon last Friday (January 20).

The move is aimed at fostering more sustainable soy production and trade.

FEFAC said, in its view, the shared goals, as outlined in the memorandum, are what is needed to kick start the "physical mainstream market transition of responsible soy to Europe."

In 2015, the EU imported 5.8m tons of soybeans and 8.4m tons of soybean meal from Brazil, according to data from World Oil.

Benchmarking soy farmers

The MoU is not a public document, confirmed Alexander Döring, secretary general of FEFAC, but he said a summary of the overall objectives will be published in due course. 

One of the common goals under this new agreement, he said, is the assessment of the Brazilian soy farming initiative, the Soja Plus program, against International Trade Centre (ITC) social and environmental criteria.

The Soja Plus program looks to increase the competitiveness of the soybean industry in Brazil and achieve better sustainability conditions in terms of economic, social and environmental pillars. Once a farmer joins Soja Plus, they begin training on compliance issues so that they can meet Brazilian legislation in relation to environmental and other criteria.

“However, Soja Plus is not a certification scheme. But the benchmarking process, according to ITC standards, will bridge that gap to allow independent verification of soy producers in that program for any third party in the EU seeking such transparency,” said Döring.

IDH soy program director, Lucian Peppenelenbos, said: “This agreement is an important step for soy producers and industry to make a direct and verifiable contribution to the ambitious targets of the Brazilian government to stop illegal deforestation and reduce deforestation by 90% in the Amazon and 95% in the Cerrado by 2030.”

In 2015, the EU imported 5.8m tons of soybeans and 8.4m tons of soybean meal from Brazil, according to data from World Oil. © istock

That ITC benchmarking process is critical to FEFAC’s soy sourcing guidelines .

Another ambition of the Brazilian and EU trade partners, said Döring, is the full implementation of the Brazilian Forest Code to ensure a mainstream transition to more sustainable soy. 

“The partners also want to expand the Soja Plus program to key soy production states beyond Mato Grosso,” he told us.

The soy chain partners support the Forest Code’s objective of preserving natural habitats by promoting sustainable agricultural practices at soy farm level whilst safeguarding community rights in rural areas. 

The MoU, they continued, recognises legal rights in relation to ‘legally deforested land’ and is aimed at farmer compliance with governmental regulation. The focus, therefore, is on ending illegal deforestation, said the groups during a press conference on the agreement. 

WWF reaction

“Unfortunately, legal deforestation or conversion can amount to millions of hectares in Brazil,” said Jean Timmers, WWF’s soy lead, while acknowledging that the memorandum represented “progress”.

“[The MoU is] an important step. The WWF values all efforts to increase responsible soy production. Soja Plus is a welcome training program that helps farmers improve their practices,” she noted.

However, she stressed the MoU was not yet “in compliance with the New York Declaration on Forests, The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), The Bank Environment Initiative, and other relevant sectoral or multi-stakeholder platforms that have the crucial commitments to halt deforestation and other ecosystems´ conversion from the soy supply chain.”

Timmers also noted the FEFAC’s soy sourcing guidelines do not include clear criteria on excluding deforestation or conversion, focusing instead on legality. She said any soy on the European and any other market needs to include a minimal insurance of eliminating all deforestation and conversion of other ecosystems from its supply chain to be termed responsible or sustainable soy.

Reacting, Döring said many of FEFAC’s members are signed up to the New York Declaration on Forests and the CGF includes the EU feed trade group’s soy sourcing guidelines as “an important step” in their twin-track approach towards achieving zero net deforestation.

Government action required

He said the WWF is not focusing on the right target: "It is outside FEFAC’s scope and mandate to determine which soy products companies have to buy or for it to promote any particular responsible soy standard or program."

The goal of the guidelines, said FEFAC, is to define a baseline in the market and raise that baseline in time — continuous improvement based on volume-bound commitment. 

FEFAC is a facilitator in this regard, and achieving a goal such as zero net deforestation requires the involvement of national governments,” said Döring.

A European Commission feasibility study to further define and assess policy options available to the EU on deforestation and forest degradation – as a follow on from the 2013 report on the impact of EU consumption on deforestation – is due. “That report may eventually lead to EU action on commodity linked deforestation,” added Döring.

In addition, FEFAC, he said, awaits with interest the outcome of the exchange of views, scheduled for this week, between the EU Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and Blairo Maggi, Brazil’s minister for agriculture, livestock and food supply.

Soy ‘no longer a vector for deforestation’ in the Amazon

Carlo Lovatelli, president of the Brazilian vegetable oil association, ABIOVE, has said previously there is a misconception around soy and deforestation in Brazil. That commodity is no longer a relevant driver of deforestation in the Amazon Biome, he said.

ABIOVE was one of the stakeholders behind the private sector voluntary agreement, the Brazilian Soy Moratorium, which the country's agricultural ministry renewed indefinitely in May last year. Set up in 2006, the moratorium has prohibited participants from trading, acquiring or financing soybeans from areas of the Brazilian Amazon biome that were deforested after July 2008.

It had been given a stay of execution until May 2016, by which time the ministry had anticipated that enough soy farmers would be meeting their obligations under the two instruments included in the the Forest Code — the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) and the Environmental Compliance Program (PRA) — to justify ending the agreement.

A study evaluating the soy moratorium, published in the journal Science in January 2015, showed it has made a major contribution in ensuring a reduction in deforestation in Brazil since its introduction. Prior to the moratorium, it showed that soy accounted for roughly a fifth of recent deforestation, while today its share is less than 1%.

The authors of that study, led by Holly Gibbs of the University of Wisconsin in the US, argued that ending the moratorium prematurely would risk a return to deforestation, as full compliance and enforcement of the CAR and Forest Code regulations was likely to be years away.

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