The challenge towards deforestation-free soy

13 March 2019

“How can we achieve deforestation-free and sustainable soy in European production and import?” Many businesses working with soy ask themselves this question as they already struggle with monitoring legal compliance. Three interrelated reports by IUCN NL show that robust and ambitious sustainability standards avoid illegality in the soy trade chain and support farmers in more responsible ways of producing. Here’s why compliance with deforestation-free sustainability standards, combined with additional support in risk landscapes, is crucial for the European market to clean up its business.

Legal deforestation and conversion

The European feed sector currently promotes a stepwise approach to responsible soy in Europe, trying to achieve legal compliance. Instead of setting the bar to zero deforestation, the sector first focuses on banning illegal deforestation. The IUCN NL report 'An analysis of existing laws on forest protection in the main soy producing countries' in Latin America' shows what legal compliance means for protecting forests and ecosystems in the main Latin American countries of origin for European soy: Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

“While the forest and environmental laws offer some protection indeed, still more than 110 million hectares can be legally deforested for soy, beef production or other in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay,” says Marianne Hilders, senior expert at IUCN NL. The impact on nature by legal conversion is even higher if we consider other ecosystems, such as grassland and wetlands. “A focus on achieving no illegal deforestation may therefore be time and money lost in the context of the climate and zero deforestation challenges”.

Robust criteria and control

“There is an additional reason to choose for deforestation-free certification options,” says Heleen van den Hombergh, senior expert agro commodities at IUCN NL. “We commissioned a benchmark of soy standards to help guide European buyers and governments in their choice-making. Self-evidently, legal compliance is a part of responsible sourcing. Yet we found that certification systems that do not allow for deforestation and conversion tend to show greater awareness about the need for transparency of their certification locations and the need for robust control. Both aspects are of crucial importance to avoid illegality.”

By choosing deforestation-free certification options, the sector is able to tackle two issues at once: these certification options are generally more effective in achieving legal compliance, while they also contribute to halting legal deforestation. “In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and the climate challenges of our time, we therefore encourage the sector and government alike to step up their game by going straight for deforestation free options and making legal compliance in landscapes part of the effort,” Van den Hombergh concludes. "Actively reaching out to forest risk landscapes, by buying credits from farmers who make a difference in these landscapes is an important market sign, especially if this is done in combination with additional support."

Transparency of process and progress

In March, a European Soy Monitor will be released. This publication, commissioned by the Initiative for Sustainable Trade (IDH) and IUCN NL reports on the European consumption, import and trade, and the progress in responsible and deforestation free certification in the soy trade chain.

Towards deforestation free soy

IUCN NL supports the transition to deforestation-free and sustainable soy. The three reports are meant to provide valuable input to companies, financial institutions, government representatives and NGOs who seek to step up their efforts in Europe and elsewhere.

IUCN NL initiated the Dutch Soy Platform Initiative and is advisor to the Amsterdam Declaration Partnership and the worldwide Syntegration effort for sustainable soy. IUCN advocates for legislation in Europe to require responsible deforestation-free agrocommodities.

Read the reports


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