Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia are major soy producers, jointly contributing to about 60% of the global production. The Netherlands is a very important player in the soy industry; after China it is the world's largest soy importer, processing thousands of tons per day.


There are several negative impacts associated with soy cultivation worldwide. Deforestation and loss of biodiversity are the main problems associated with soy cultivation.


Deforestation has a direct effect on the climate through CO2 emissions. This effect is intensified by the creation of infrastructure for the transporting and processing of soy.


Other environmental problems related to soy cultivation are erosion, hydrological changes, degradation of land, toxicity, and water pollution through excessive and/or incorrect use of pesticides.


Major social issues linked to soy production are labor rights, land disputes and small holder inclusion. Different issues are important depending on the producing region. 


To gain insights into the sustainability needs and bottlenecks at producer level, IDH issued a Strategic Gap Analysis in Brazil (Mato Grosso and Parana state) and in Argentina (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santa Fé and Salta) in collaboration with IFC.


Download the full GAP analysis (1.0 Mb)



Research was specifically done on the local situation regarding good agricultural practices, environmental responsibility, community relations, legal aspects, responsible labor conditions and certification.



 Sustainability Issue

Good agricultural practices

Minor use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Systems, as a result of the lack of technical knowledge and support to implement a plan to monitor new pests.


Lack of documented control of the application of agricultural chemicals.


Registration of activities at small and medium farms is problematic (this is also an opportunity, as it can help increase farm efficiency).
Environmental responsibility

Most farmers in Brazil have ‘forest debts’ and do not comply with the actual Forest Conservation Code. Costs to regularize are high and little support is available.


The Forest Conservation Code is being reformed at the moment, creating insecurity for farmers regarding its implications for forest conservation on farmlands. In Argentina, some main soy provinces lack territorial planning required by new forests laws.


Widespread consensus regarding the importance of conservation of forest along rivers and steep slopes (APPs).


MAPITOBA states in Brazil: new savanna areas are deforested to legal limits, potentially HCVA’s.


Waste disposal is an issue, especially in Argentina.


Little knowledge and practice in green house gas monitoring.

Responsible labor conditions

Medium and small producers, in general, do not have health and safety procedures and programs for workers in place.

In Brazil, problems were identified regarding the compliance to work hours in the soybean planting and harvesting season.

In Argentina, most of work is outsourced to service companies. Little information on contract and working conditions of subcontracted labor.

Generalized lack of knowledge regarding soy certification programs.


Generalized lack of knowledge of RTRS.


Important role of traders and of producer organizations (associations/cooperatives) in influencing and supporting the certification process along with producers. Producers are skeptical to the traders’ transparency regarding margins/premiums for certification.


Producers expect to receive a premium for the certified product. There are little incentives for this so far.


Producer associations consider certification an excluding instrument and prefer to address sustainability to a whole group, which is without certification.


In order to address these problems in the soy sector, producers, traders, processors, financial institutions and civil society organizations have formed the international Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS). The RTRS has developed criteria for responsible soy production and a system for implementing these criteria. The criteria were finalized and approved in May 2009.