Congresos y reuniones científicas
Sustainability's Landnahme: economization, commodification and financialization in the Round Table on Responsible Soy
Conferencia; Finance as a response to environmental crises? Critical analysis of the ?economicization?of carbon emissions and biodiversity; 2017
Institución organizadora:
Universität Hamburg; EHESS
From the 1990s South America has been the land of the ?soy boom? (Carter et al., 1996). Soy cultivation has grown frenetically, based on its expansion over fields previously used for other crops or at the expense of formerly virgin lands. In a country with a long agricultural tradition such as Argentina, for example, the soy revolution produced an extraordinary change of landscape: production boosted from only 3.7 million tons in 1980 to 50 million tons in 2012, while its share of the total cultivated surface moved from 20% in 1996 to 53% in 2012 (Giarraca y Teubal, 2013:26-7). This trend was common to other South American countries, making the region one of the main producing poles: in the period between 2000 and 2009 the production of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay accounted for over 70% of the global, non-US, total (Elgert, 2012). While the ?soy boom? made possible for South American countries to increase their exports and use the resulting extraordinary incomes in redistributive policies ? what some describe as a neo-extractivist development strategy (cf. Burchardt and Dietz, 2014) ? many critical voices have pointed out the serious sustainability deficits inherent to the socio-economic model on which this phenomenon has been based. Among the main ones, it can be highlighted: the serious threats to biodiversity and food security posed by the excessive specialization in a commodity for exports (Palmisano, 2016:27); a strong tendency towards concentration, as soy production is increasingly dominated by big capitalist groups that buy or lease land from smaller producers, displacing peasant and family agriculture (Craviotti and Gras, 2006); the deforestation of native forests, the destruction of autochthonous biomes, the replacement of extensive for intensive cattle raising and the displacement of aboriginal groups, all as a consequence of the ?soy-ization? of previously non-agricultural lands (Altieri and Pengue, 2006). It is against this backdrop that a variety of initiatives have begun to spring with the goal of securing more sustainable conditions of production, trade and consumption in the global value chain of soy. Probably one of the best known global initiatives for the regulation of the soy sector is the certification put forward by the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), which has stated as its mission to ?encourage current and future soybean is produced in a responsible manner to reduce social and environmental impacts while maintaining or improving the economic status for the producer? (, 15 May 2017). While its motto of ?socially equitable, economically feasible, environmentally sound soy? points towards a multidimensional approach, the most detailed and demanding regulations of the voluntary standards created by this multi-stakeholder initiative are related to the environmental conditions of soy production. Hence, after its latest round of reviews, RTRS has proudly announced that they are ?the only multi-stakeholder certification scheme that guarantees zero deforestation in responsible soy production? granting certifications only to those producers whose ?operations have not impacted on any native forests, wetlands or riverbanks? ( 15 May 2017). RTRS appears as a paradigmatic example of those governance initiatives that seek to tackle economic problems with the same tools provided by the dominant economic system ? in this case, the creation of a market for ?sustainable soy?, to be accessed through a certification, where incentives for producers are found in the form of access to market niches or economic premiums. The proposed paper, consequently, will examine the initiative put forward by RTRS by answering the following question: what are the economic and political implications of the certification system developed by the Round Table on Responsible Soy? My working hypothesis is that the market-based, consumption-led strategy put forward by RTRS can be best characterized as an example of a Landnahme, as conceptualized by Klaus Dörre (Dörre et al., 2015). The idea of a Landnahme seeks to explain the dynamic nature of capitalism and its need to economize and commodify previously non-economic spheres of social life. Hence, the proposed paper will explore: (a) the process of economization put forward by RTRS by treating a problem of (environmental) sustainability in economic terms; (b) the commodification entailed in the creation and exchange of a commodity called ?responsible soy?; (c) the financial-like logic adopted by the system, best evidenced in the creation of purchasable and tradable ?credits?, which make possible to detach ?sustainability? from any specific commodity. This paper is part of my ongoing postdoctoral research. The empirical analysis will be based on a variety of documents produced by RTRS (standards, explanatory documents, diffusion materials, minutes) and interviews with RTRS relevant actors.