Paraguay looks to grow soya sustainably
Paraguay looks to grow soya sustainable now that it is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of soy, much of which is shipped to the European Union. Some of this acreage has a certification scheme is in place to make soy production sustainable. It is the hope that this area will increase as people realise the commercial value in protecting the land from depredation.
In Eastern Paraguay, a sea of soy stretches as far as the eye can see, interspersed only by the occasional dirt road or other crops. The oft-dubbed “green gold” covers land that until the 1960s was heavily forested.
Despite being a small, landlocked country in South America, Paraguay has grown into the world’s fourth largest exporter of soy, with the crop covering 80 percent of its agricultural land. The result was rampant deforestation and intensive land use, prompting environmentalists to push for the crop to be produced in a more ecologically and socially sustainable manner. This is why certification was introduced. There are currently two approved systems. RTRS and ProTerra
Does certification help with soil protection?
Through the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) initiative, kick-started in 2006 by the World Wildlife Fund, where soy producers agree to adhere to standards such as avoiding cultivation in areas deemed to have a high conservation value, and maintaining or strengthening the supply or local ground and surface water.
Paraguay, whose three million hectares plus of soybean has expanded to nearly three times the yield of 1998, is one of only four countries taking part in this new initiative. There are currently two companies in Paraguay with RTRS certification, comprising a total of 8,100 protected hectares, according to the WWF.
A bulk of the Paraguayan soy is shipped unprocessed to the European Union, which is now its second largest importer, mostly to fatten pigs and cattle, and contribute to the growing biofuels industry. Europe uses 34 million tons of soy a year, and the WWF is working with large industries to make production as sustainable as possible.
“There is value in the RTRS Standard, but it could still be so much better,” says Jochen Koester, a consultant to the European Commission and major retailers, who was part of the original RTRS working group. “The RTRS is a money saver for companies that want to be perceived as going green.”
Large companies pay 2,500 euros ($3,473) a year for corporate membership in the sustainable soy program, whether or not they meet its criteria, says Koester. Only companies carrying a label through the program have to undergo an audit, which occurs on-site once a year.
The network should also have stricter environmental policies in place, says Koester. The current standard allows for the clearance of native habitat as long as it’s not an indigenous forest, and has been zoned for local authorities for commercial expansion.
Sustainability and GMOs
Critics of the initiative also point out that it allows for the use of genetically modified soy. One of the members is Monsanto, whose “Round-Up Ready Soybean” comprises 95 percent of Paraguay’s production.
Yet GMOs ( Genetically Modified Organisms) are the only way to meet increasing demands, says Luis Cubillo, advisor to the Paraguayan Chamber of Vegetable Oils (CAPECO) and RTRS expert. “The world needs to produce millions of tons of soy to feed so many millions of people,” he says, “and biotechnology is the best way to achieve it.”
Soy monocultures expanding
Only half of all soy certified under RTRS or ProTerra, the another sustainable soy certification scheme, has been purchased by European companies, states the WWF in a report released at the RTRS conference.
ProTerra, unlike its counterpart, does not use GMO soy, and also forbids community patterns of land use from being disrupted, even with compensation.
Some might say this approach is not working and a more regulated approach might be needed. In any event, those who do not look after the soil will find soon or later it will be lost to them forever.
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