The Round Table for Responsible Soy can expand, the president of the sustainable soy scheme has insisted.

Speaking to just-food, Jaap Oskam said the initiative has “momentum” after the first batch of soy certified by the scheme was acquired last year, five years after the round table was founded.

“The start of certification of soya farms started last year but it can go fast. The beginning is difficult, there are a lot of start-up issues to be resolved but the momentum is there and then the demand is created – that’s the other part of the coin – I believe it can accelerate,” Oskam said the RTRS annual conference in London this week.

The RTRS is a multi-stakeholder initiative set up to try to encourage the sustainable cultivation of the commodity. Signatories include Unilever, Carrefour and campaign groups like the WWF.

However, questions surround the scheme, including claims by some soybean producers that it is too expensive to cultivate RTRS-certified soy.

“There are aspects of the system that have to be improved,” Jose Eduardo Jorge Born, president of Argentinian agribusiness Caldanes, said at the RTRS conference on Wednesday (23 May). “However, RTRS is expensive to implement, is little known among players in the industry and there is very little market. RTRS is seen as an expense without a proper and clear return.”

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Meanwhile, a report issued this week by campaigners at Corporate Europe Observatory claimed the RTRS had “failed to achieve any social or environmental benefits”.

Oskam acknowledged the concerns of farmers but said those he had met were keen to sign up to the initiative. He also insisted the initiative had made progress on improving the way farmers cultivated soy.

“The farmers’ evaluation tells us that agricultural practice has been improved. They also say it is complex, takes a lot of time, costs a lot of money but they also recognise there are a lot of advantages. They are really eager to make this happen. It is about evaluating what we have pragmatically, step by step,” Oskam said.

In his speech to the conference, the RTRS president, who is also chief procurement officer at Dutch agribusiness Nutreco, acknowledged “upscaling” the cultivation of certified soy would be a challenge.

Almost 300,000 tonnes of RTRS-certified soy have been sold since last June. The initiative is targeting 5m tonnes to be sold by 2015.

Oskam said: “The RTRS aims for the mainstream. We aim for the transformation of the current soy business to a more sustainable soy business.”