Interview with Agustin Mascotena, Executive Director of the RTRS



Posted on 20 December 2010  | 

Agustin Mascotena is the Director of the Round Table on Responsible Soy. He has been working in the soy value chain for the last fifteen years in both Argentina and Brazil. Agustin Mascotena has an MBA, and a BA in Agricultural Economics.

Q. Can you explain your background and what excites you about taking on your role as director of the RTRS?

A. I come from a farming background. I studied Agricultural Economy and my professional career has always been related to agribusiness, and particularly to soy in different parts of the value chain (seeds, crushing, handling and farming).

The global transformation of markets started some years ago with several commodities such as timber (through the Forest Stewardship Council) and I am sure that this is something that will evolve in different ways and which will certainly not stop. RTRS is involved in that process of market transformation and I find it a very challenging task to work with.

But I feel that I’m in the right place at the right moment to make things work. So far the RTRS has been working on building standards and the Principles and Criteria—now is the time to put that into practice and make it work at ground and market level.

Q. What are the main priorities of the RTRS moving forward?

A. The first one is to see the first cases of soy certification in the market. This involves gathering some experience, sharing case studies and improving the certification process so that we can quickly expand the volume of certified soy.

Soy production is so big that we need to multiply every small effort as much as possible, not only by adding more producers but also by improving communications to show that sustainability, responsibility and production can be perfectly linked.

For this we need commitment from buyers and responsible farmers to supply their needs. Some companies are making commitments on palm oil and soy and we need more similar pledges from buyers, such as Unilever, to create a snowball effect.

On the supply side, some farmers will fall into step to benefit from the price premium for sustainable soy, but over time they will see the bigger picture of the sustainability.

A clear example of how things can change is with no till planting, where an association (AAPRESID) that began with five partners with the objective to preserve soil and the organic market succeeded in making 95% of Argentinean planting no till.

Q. What is the latest progress regarding the progress of the RTRS certification scheme and supply chain systems?

A. The first Certification Bodies have been accredited and some others are applying for accreditation. Already, these bodies are receiving requests from the supply chain to certify the next crop.

Since the Chain of Custody accreditation system was approved by the Executive Board and the first training course for auditors of the supply chain will take place in January in Berlin, we expect to have this component ready by February.

Q. Can you explain about the new non-GM supply chain annex within the RTRS and why this is important?

A. The non-GM annex is one of the modules of our Chain of Custody standard and it works by setting all the different requirements to supply GMO-free produce to all those markets and industries that demand crops that not only have not been modified, but also that are produced in a responsible manner according to RTRS Principle and Criteria.

Companies can purchase non-GM soy on the market, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that farmers meet sustainability requirements (rotating crops, buying legal seeds, etc.) By purchasing RTRS-certified non-GM soy, buyers will be acquiring certified products that meet all requirements.

Q. Under Criterion 4.4 in the RTRS Principles and Criteria, the RTRS is required to develop High Conservation Value mapping of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. What is the progress and what are the challenges and opportunities?

A. There is a working group lead by WWF, Proforest and RTRS collaborating on this matter. We are in the process of fundraising for the project, which has been presented to the Biodiversity and Agricultural Commodities Program (BACP), and we are expecting to have other co-founders to support it.

Once the funding has been assured for the project, what I see as one of the main challenges is the dynamic of land use change and the fact that these maps may be stricter than those developed by the governments of each country.

So responsible farmers will have to meet higher requirements that those enforced by their own governments. It is important to clarify that Uruguay is not included in this first stage of the mapping but we are working with National Interpretations there, with the cooperation of governmental institutions.

These maps will not only be useful for RTRS but also for other Round Tables and other sustainability initiatives, so we expect to add more players to this process and a broader recognition for this work.

Q. When do you expect RTRS-certified soy to be available in the market? From where, how much? How do you see the market developing in the first year? What will be the greatest challenges?

A. We are expecting to have the first tons available by March/April 2011, mainly from South America and possibly also from India. This will be made possible by the SOYPSI program (Soy Producer Support Initiative) that helps small farmers to develop more efficient and sustainable practices.

This first year will be a useful experience from which we need to learn and draw conclusions that allow us to increase our commitment every year towards sustainability.

There are many challenges (as in any “new movement”) but is important for the RTRS to state with this first experiences that we are part of the solution.

The RTRS is not here to deny the existing problems (legal, labour, social, environmental and agricultural practices) but to address them to show that is possible to supply the world with what everyone consumes (oils, meat, chocolate, soap, biofuels, milk, cookies, petfood, ink, plastics, etc.) in a sustainable way.

Q. Do you envisage that further down the track there would be a product certification label for soy, the same way that RSPO has just developed one?

A. A RTRS trademarked logo will be launched soon. It will then be up to the industries to decide whether to use it or not for their products.

Q. The Board of the Consumer Goods Forum (BCGF) has just approved a resolution to achieve net zero deforestation by 2020 in products such as palm oil, soy, beef, and paper. Do you think that a transformation in the soy cultivation/processing industry can happen fast enough to meet that need?

A. I like these kinds of commitments, and even more when there is a deadline! But 2020 is still ten years away—plenty of forests will be cleared by then. It is also worth considering how China and India will be included in such a commitment. This is why pledges of this kind at a global level can help, as long as they are implemented gradually.

Looking at those commitments from the perspective of the RTRS, we need to ensure our own financial sustainability as an organization. If the volumes of RTRS soy that are traded do not increase year by year, we are not going to be sustainable.

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