Sustainable soy developments news round-up

Financial measures to support deforestation-free sustainable agriculture: RTRS conference highlights and Cargill pledges

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Marina Born, president of RTRS, speaking at RT14 in Utrecht on June 11 2019
Marina Born, president of RTRS, speaking at RT14 in Utrecht on June 11 2019
The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) annual two-day conference took place earlier this week at the headquarters of Rabobank in Utrecht; the focus again was on boosting demand for responsible soy, but also on what financial markets can do in this respect.

There were over 270 registered global delegates from every part of the soy supply chain, reported the organizers. 

Berry Marttin, a member of Rabobank’s managing board, opened the event; he outlined a number of measures his farming-focused bank is instigating to help growers transition, including financing - the Agri3 Fund – a partnership with UN Environment that has the aim of unlocking at least US$1bn in funds towards deforestation-free, sustainable agriculture and land use.

He also presented on a new client rating system that will place sustainability ratings - an ‘e-rating’ - alongside financial robustness for the first time.

Juliana de Lavor Lopes, vice president of RTRS, and communications and compliance director at Brazilian soybean producer, Amaggi, highlighed research into what she termed the positive impact that RTRS certification has had on growers in Brazil.

She challenged the rest of the soy supply chain to deliver greater demand.

Indeed, consumer demand, transparency and a greater understanding of soy in the food system dominated much of the morning’s discussion and presentations.

Judith Kontny, international corporate social responsibility manager at Lidl, spoke about the Lidl soy initiative and a new film the retailer made to help explain to its consumers that responsible soy is a priority for the supermarket.

“We started this project in 2017 and quickly realized the challenge of soy being a hidden commodity,”​ she said. “That’s why we wanted to move it from an expert discussion to one that could educate the consumer about soy.”

Lidl recently announced its commitment to source 100% certified responsible soy across its supply chain. Kontny said that the retailer has worked with RTRS to focus on some of the poorest producing areas in the North East of Brazil where, she said, certification has a very strong social component as well as guaranteeing zero deforestation.

'Forest conservation comes with a price'

Forest conservation comes with a price, which is not paid for by pledges only, said FEFAC on social media as it attended the Amsterdam Declaration partnership meeting on deforestation​ that followed the RTRS event in Utrecht. 

The EU feed manufacturing industry trade group said it presented on its proposals for stimulating the creation of data on environmental performance that can help to foster low emission soy as well as provide a credible mechanism for farmer compensation.

New seed funding from Cargill to protect forests

Meanwhile, today, Cargill announced it was committing to $30m in seed funding to find solutions to protect forests and native vegetation in Brazil.  The soy trader also provided more details on its soy action plan​.

Cargill CEO, Dave MacLennan, said:

“We are urgently calling on the industry – our competitors, customers and others – to join us and invest with us to accelerate progress – to find solutions that help protect Brazilian land, while providing farmers and communities economic opportunity.

“We will convene the best and brightest minds to identify innovative solutions to end deforestation, starting with the soy industry in Brazil. It will take collective action to solve this problem, not merely shift it to another company’s supply chain.

“Cargill is a large company, and on our own, we can drive change. Working with others, we can transform our industry. In doing so, we can create a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable supply chain that works for everyone."

As regards developing its action plan for sustainable soy in South America, the agribusiness giant said it drew down on several sources, including The Soy Toolkit developed by Proforest and its 5-element approach, as well as the Accountability Framework Initiative.

“We used a modified version of the 5-element approach, including adding an element of transformational partnerships, in keeping with our theory of change.

“We invite feedback from our implementation partners and other stakeholders so we can continuously learn, adjust and improve.”

Cargill said the heart of its plan is working closely with its supplier partners – farmers and producers, intermediary aggregators, and traders and processors – as well as other key stakeholders to drive progress.

Our underlying theory of change rests on three concepts - supply chain traceability and mapping efforts that match the level of risk, prioritization that directs resources toward the highest-risk supplies from the highest-risk areas, and our belief that sector-wide transformation is the best pathway to success.

“Regarding risk assessment overall, land conversion is our primary filter at this stage.”

'Cargill's soy plan fails to address our concerns' 

CEO of environmental campaigners, Mighty Earth, Glenn Hurowitz said his group and Cargill’s MacLennan had held intense discussions over the past several weeks but that action plan revealed today failed to address the not-for-profit organization’s concerns.

“Ultimately, it [Cargill’s soy action plan] lacks a commitment to cease purchasing soy from suppliers who engage in destruction of native vegetation,”​ he told us.

The question now is whether Cargill customers like Ahold Delhaize and McDonald’s will take any action to shift business from Cargill or allow the company "to continue to tie them and their customers to deforestation and displacement of indigenous communities"​, said Hurowitz.

He also weighed in on the seed funding pledge by the Minnesota headquartered group.

“While we welcome Cargill's stated willingness to invest money in incentivizing forest conservation, they seem to have no idea how the money would be spent or how it would get the job done. Unfortunately, the track record of such investments in the absence of strict conservation policies is poor, and they are no substitute for a real policy and real commitment.”

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