Argentinean soy based biodiesel: an introduction to production and impacts

This working paper explores the economic, social and environmental context, drivers and impacts of increased demand for Argentine soy-based biodiesel. It is based on extensive stakeholder interviews in Argentina, including those in government, academia and the third sector; participant observation with communities in soy cultivation areas; and review of relevant academic and grey literature.  

Given Argentina’s history of political instability and corruption, plus the adverse GHG implications of clearing native habitats for soy for biodiesel, we are sceptical of the likely effectiveness of biofuel sustainability certification as applied to Argentine soy. Similar problems may apply to other producer countries and a more precautious approach to ensuring that European demand incentivises only environmentally and socially positive biofuel production is justified.

This may entail feedstock-specific contracts between producers, trusted intermediaries and retailers, backed by a chain of custody that physically separates certified feedstock, rather than pooling it as an agricultural commodity.

Moreover, only feedstocks for which the production characteristics are clearly known and reliably verifiable, and for which the environmental, social and economic impacts are of a high quality, should be incentivised. Civil society needs to be involved in defining what high quality means in this context; currently, soy production in general in Argentina cannot be said to meet this criterion.

Upham, P., and J. Tomei