FLO Develops Standards for Fairtrade Soybean and Pulses

05 December 2008

Following a long term project to enable Fairtrade standards to be extended to include pulses and soybean, FLO has now approved the Soybean and Pulses Standards for Small Farmer Organizations. This will enable small-scale producers of pulses[1] such as haricot bean, chickpea, red kidney, lentil as well as soybean[2] to apply for Fairtrade certification.

Many consumers perceive these products to be grown only on large-scale plantations. However, millions of smallholders in the developing world depend on soybeans and pulses for their livelihood.[3] The introduction of these standards and the Fairtrade minimum prices will provide a safety net for farmers who are struggling more than ever against tumbling world market prices [4] and rising production costs. It will also provide these farmers’ communities with a Fairtrade premium that goes to projects such as better health-care, education and improvement of production methods.

Soybean and pulse crops add nutrients such as nitrogen to the soil. For smallholder soybean production, the cycle is only 90 to 120 days and is often rotated with wheat, maize, rice, beans, sorghum or sugarcane. Similarly pulses are usually intercropped with crops such as wheat, coffee or cotton. Therefore encouraging small-scale farmers to continue producing soybean and pulses is a means of assisting in longer-term sustainability and enabling diversification through Fairtrade.

The introduction of these Fairtrade standards is the result of an extensive process of research and consultation, led by FLO, Max Havelaar Belgium and the Fairtrade Foundation in line with ISEAL best-practice for standard-setting. In addition to research into the cost of production for small farmers of soybean and pulses in several producing regions, FLO has led direct consultations with producer organizations and programs supporting sustainability in production around the world.

The Soybean and Pulses Standards for Small Farmer Organizations contains global Fairtrade minimum prices enabling producers from all regions to apply. However, India currently has an official government ban on the export of certain pulses. As well as being one of the biggest pulse producers, they are also the biggest importer. FLO respects this and will not certify producers growing products that are banned from export.

Fairtrade standards prohibit Fairtrade certified producer organisations from using genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including GM seeds and planting stock. Therefore, being Fairtrade certified will provide an incentive for small farmers to continue their commitment to produce GMO-free soybean.

FLO has additionally introduced specific Trade Standards for Soybean and Pulses. This has been done to ensure greater transparency in the system, as well as to guarantee sustained trading relationships and enable producers to benefit from prefinance.

FLO is confident that the introduction of these new Fairtrade standards will give small-scale farmers the opportunity to improve their position and secure their livelihoods for a better future.

Fairtrade standards, minimum prices and premiums for soybean and pulses are listed in the Fairtrade Product Standards which are published on the FLO web-site at www.fairtrade.net.


[1] Pulses are annual leguminous crops that yield between one to twelve grains or seeds of variable size, shape and color within a pod. The definition excludes crops harvested green for food, used predominantly for oil extraction and leguminous crops purely used for sowing purposes. 

[2] 85 percent of soya is crushed for the production of soya oils and meal. The oil is used in a variety of processed foods and the meal is mostly fed to livestock. An example of the end products for Fairtrade certified soybeans are tofu, soybean milk and soya drinks.

[3] Soybean and pulses are grown in a number of developing countries including India, China, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Myanmar andBurma amongst others.

[4] E.g. Soybean prices in Bolivia have reached as low as 140 USD/MT.

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