First sustainability certifications for innovative WWF-Brazil project for soy farmers
The certifications are a landmark for the project which has been engaged for two years in improving management practices for soybean farmers in the Sorriso district of Mato Grosso. Three of the certifications were achieved by the women farmers estimated to make up around 10 percent of the Brazil’s individual farmers.
Around 21,000 hectares of new certified area, as well as 15,125 hectares set aside for conservation and the protection of habitats of valuable and endangered species. Total conservation areas on the nine farms are well in excess of the areas required under less stringent environmental and social guidelines by Brazilian law.
Sorriso lies in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a large swath of biologically-rich land that contains parts of the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado savannah.
Through its substantial soybean industry, Mato Grosso plays a big role in feeding the world. 75% of all soy produced is used as animal feed and fed to chickens, pigs, cows, and farmed fish. And as dairy cows eat a lot of soy, it’s also embedded in many dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs. Brazil is the main source of embedded soy for the EU.
A study commissioned by WWF showed that in 2007 the EU required 7 million hectares of land in Brazil to meet its needs for embedded soy – this is equivalent to the combined area of Belgium and the Netherlands.
The challenge in this region is to use the land to meet the development needs of Brazil and feed the world’s growing population while protecting biodiversity and carbon-rich land and meanwhile respecting community and worker rights. WWF and its project partners see the responsible production by rural soy farmers under credible schemes like the RTRS as one way forward.
“WWF-Brazil’s goal is for this project to become a showcase of good agricultural practices at the heart of Brazilian agribusiness and beyond,“ said Edgar Rosa, Edegar Rosa head of the Agriculture and Environment Programme at WWF-Brazil. “It shows how Brazilian farmers can grow soy while saving important habitats and preserving species including the giant anteater, the armadillo and over 800 kinds of birds. It is a very positive scenario because we are expanding the project to further 60,000 hectares within the next year.“
One of the project’s goals is to maximize the role of women in sustainable development as they are already likely to be more active in the community and implementing best management practices in comparison to their male counterparts.
Through workshops and other events, the project equipped farmers with the knowledge and hands on skills they needed to improve their practices so that they could meet the rigorous RTRS standard for responsible soy production. In July 2015 the farms underwent the audit process, during which they were evaluated for compliance with legislation and good business practices; good working conditions; responsible relations towards the community; environmental responsibility; and good agricultural practices. Of the resulting nine farms that achieived RTRS certification, three are led by women.
One of the cornerstones of the RTRS certification system is the premise that no soy farm can be deemed responsible if it converts valuable forests, savannahs or grasslands in order to plant soy. The system requires farmers to undergo rigorous assessments to identify the areas that have high environmental and/or social values and set those aside. In this project nearly 4000 more hectares were registered with the Brazilian Land Registry than were required by Brazil’s Forest Code. This is certainly good news for the biodiverse forests of Sorriso which encompass both the Amazon and Cerrado ecosystems and which continue to be under pressure from agricultural development.
Alongside tangible environmental and social benefits, the certification process benefited the producers in other practical ways. “Due to the high level of soybean production in Sorriso, the greatest challenge is in property management,“ said Rosa. "And through this project we have observed that the RTRS standard works as an effective management tool for the producers.”
As one of the backbones of the RTRS system is continuous improvement, the work for the certified producers participating in the project has only just begun. They must continue to maintain their compliance to the the standards and prepare for the second year audit next year. Meanwhile, the project as a whole continues to expand by engaging with new producers in Sorriso.
The project launched in 2013 as a cooperation between WWF France, WWF Brazil, Solidaridad, Friends of Earth Club – CAT Sorriso, the Dutch sustainable trade agency IDH and the French cheese company, BEL Group, known for brands such as the Laughing Cow, Leerdammer, Babybel and Boursin. As a European consumer goods manufacturer, BEL plays an important role by providing “market pull” and tangible economic incentive for the producers. The company buys RTRS certificates from the participating farmers in order to support the production of certified soy meal for dairy cows, a priority for BEL as part of its effort to lower the ecological footprint of its products. “Buying certificates is the first step toward procuring sustainably produced soy, “explains Magali Sartre, BEL's External Communication and Public Affairs Director. “This commitment helps support the efforts of soy growers involved in the RTRS initiative and contributes to the adoption of more sustainable practices.”