RTRS, retailers and fast food giants back call for urgent action in Brazil’s Cerrado

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© istock
© istock

Related tags Brazil

The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and other stakeholders have endorsed a manifesto calling for an end to the destruction of forests and native vegetation in the Cerrado region of Brazil.

The Cerrado Manifesto was published in September 2017​ ​by a range of Brazilian organizations including WWF-Brazil, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Earth Innovation, CI-Brazil, Greenpeace Brazil, IPAM and Imaflora. It is the focus of a series of high-level meetings and workshops in London and in Brussels, which  commenced this week [23 October).

The Manifesto stated that the Cerrado is one of the great natural regions of the world but has already seen half of its original area destroyed. It holds around 5% of the world’s biodiversity. It also stores the equivalent of 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

As an organization already working with more than 32,000 soy producers as well as many well-known global food and agriculture brands, the RTRS said it be will be a key route in delivering the Manifesto commitments.

Along with the RTRS, retailers and fast food giants including Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Unilever, and McDonald’s also signed up to the resolution at an event organized by the Prince Charles’ International Sustainability Unit in London yesterday.

Raising awareness 

RTRS board member, Lieven Callewaert, said it is fantastic the Manifesto is raising awareness of what is happening in the Brazilian Cerrado with brands and retailers.

He said the Manifesto could inspire action along the lines of the Amazon Soy Moratorium, where the private sector learnt that it is possible to produce commodities while avoiding supply chains linked to deforestation.

It is important to stress, he said, that further soy cultivation in the Cerrado can take place on already cleared land and that production would not threaten critical areas of natural vegetation.

However, a critical issue right now, said Callewaert, are supply and demand fundamentals.

“Currently, availability of RTRS certified soy is greater than demand.”

In 2016, according to RTRS data, certified soy production grew by 29% against 2015 - over 32,000 producers from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Paraguay, Uruguay and the US together produced more than 3m tons of RTRS certified soy.

Some 2m tons of that – mainly from South American sources - was sold into the European feed marketplace, said Callewaert.

The premium attached to RTRS certified soy is a factor in limited take-up by the market. The question of which actors in the value chain are going to cover the additional cost needs to be addressed, he said.

However, retailers and brands looking to meet their commitments to sustainable soy production, could, perhaps, set the agenda and exert more pressure on their supply chains.

“Feed manufacturers follow market demand, and soy farmers need to be motivated to continue to produce RTRS certified soy, they need to know there is a market for it,” ​he reiterated.

Call to agribusiness giants

Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of campaigning organization, Mighty Earth, also weighed in on the commitments made yesterday by retailers and food service chains:

“These companies have recognized that with 500 million acres of heavily degraded land available across the continent, expanding agriculture does not require destruction of native ecosystems.

“Now, it is up to the agribusinesses that dominate the global soy trade to act on this strong call from their customers. In particular, Cargill and Bunge have been most responsible for deforestation across the continent. We hope they will respond to their customers’ demand for environmentally responsible raw materials, and extend their own success in fighting deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to the rest of Latin America.”

Beyond the Cerrado 

Mighty Earth’s report​ ​from earlier this year, he said, shows that there is no need to confine an initiative such as this to solely the Cerrado. “In fact, we won’t see true benefits from a joint policy such as this unless it includes the entire region and all of the key stakeholders.”

There are important biomes being destroyed for soy and cattle production that have not received any attention, namely the Gran Chaco, the Atlantic Forest and the Chiquitano in countries like Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, said Hurowitz.

A more comprehensive, joint-monitoring system that involves all the key stakeholders is required, he said.

Mighty Earth said it has worked to develop a concrete plan to describe how this can be done in practical terms. “Along with other civil society organizations, and with input from technical experts and academics, we have developed a technical proposal for a land-use change monitoring system​. ​The price would be between $750,000 and $1,000,000 to establish, a very small fraction of percent of the profit many of these companies bring in annually.”

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