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A New View on Responsible Soy

By Marina B. de Engels

Last year the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) had an impressive scorecard for its activities. More than three million tonnes of soy was certified by RTRS, we reached a landmark of 32,000 certified growers, and over 50 buyers from the European marketplace have shown their commitment to sourcing responsible soy. We also reached 197 members of RTRS, and our hugely successful RT12 annual conference boasted 180 attendees.

However, our ongoing challenge is to achieve the scale and spread of activity we need in order to be more than just a global standard for responsible soy. We need, at the same time, to reinforce the role of RTRS as the ‘one stop shop’, bringing together responsible soy players and vital industry debate. We need to shape the market, and the sector, to deliver the transformational changes called for by our stakeholders.

As the incoming President of RTRS, my priority will naturally be to build on our track record of success and support our team and our membership base in driving up both the supply and the demand for responsible soy. We can do this in the first instance by working harder and more proactively with our members to make the case for responsible soy as often, and as forcefully, as possible. This means greater dialogue, stronger conversations, and working collaboratively to make our vision a reality. We’re called a ‘roundtable’ for a reason – this is a critical conversation.

The need for action is as relevant as ever. The global demand for soy, most of it destined for animal feed, continues to rise. One estimate from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests that demand for soy could almost double by 2050. In the last 50 years the amount of land we use across the world to grow soy has increased by a factor of ten. Much of this cultivation is concentrated in South America, where it too often comes at the expense of some of the world’s most important natural ecosystems. This ongoing pressure makes the powerful case for responsible soy even stronger.

Our partnership – RTRS – started in 2006 out of a belief that we could dramatically shift this marketplace and secure a more sustainable future for these precious natural landscapes. In the intervening years our standard, and our ongoing drive for improvement, has led to the inclusion of social issues in our certification, as well as environmental ones such as zero deforestation. We genuinely do now offer a standard for responsible soy that global market players can use as a tool to help them reach their public commitments.

Today, we need to enter our next phase of growth and development. As well as driving more demand, particularly across Europe, we will be making more strategic alliances with government, NGOs and consumer brands to strengthen the call for responsibility at every point in the chain, from the field to the fork. We will be supporting specific national ‘task forces’ in individual markets. We will be fundraising for new projects. We will continue working to be the roundtable, which brings together every single player in the world of soy, to discuss the issues that matter.

The bridge between South America and Europe will continue to be a critical one. In the latter territories, the demand is created for a supply that we know our growers are capable of producing. Our model is proven. The challenges are ever-escalating demands on the land and growing population levels. Moreover, it is a fact that many consumers don’t realise just how much soy goes into the products they purchase, particularly meat and dairy.

RTRS can continue to be a co-ordinator and convener of partners. We can make sure that everyone’s global efforts to make soy a more responsible product act in synergy, and don’t overlap with each other. We can start to work harder with governments where needed, and we can go deeper into new markets, such as Asia.

We can also be a champion for best practice. In the Netherlands there is very widespread support for action on soy, including from the government.

Since RTRS first launched over a decade ago, there have been a profusion of new iterations of sustainability standards and programmes for soy. This is a mark of our success. As we work harder to strengthen our stance on zero deforestation, labour rights, the rights of local land users, we establish a new high benchmark, which others then adopt. Ours is always a work in progress and the standard we set, often in collaboration with other standards, is perceived by the market to be the reference point for responsible soy, right across the world.

Our continued success requires us to keep this vital conversation going, bring new players into the market, drive demand and, through our combined efforts, be a global focus for the work we’re all doing to achieve our important goal.

On the shelves of our supermarkets there are ever-greater levels of demand for transparency, sustainability and decent working conditions. Major consumer brands are joining RTRS alongside global NGOs, growers and major players from the feed industry. We know that more responsible soy is good for growers, good for the environment, good for consumers and good for the businesses that are smart enough to know RTRS is a multi-stakeholder open forum they can embrace. History is on our side.

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About Marina B. de Engels

Marina Born studied Economics and International Relations in the US and has spent most of her working career in São Paulo, Brazil. She has worked in the world of digital IT and Communications in multinational companies such as Reuters and Getty Images. She set up her business, present in different countries, representing Getty Images in the Latam region. Since 2010, Marina has been increasingly involved in her family-owned agricultural and breeding businesses. For the last 10 years, she has supported the initiative of Caldenes Group of applying for the RTRS Certification and for its recent Recertification. Her aim is to help drive her family businesses to work from the economic, environmental and social perspective to develop quality products, in line with market demands.

September 2017