Rabobank hopes "green loan" to AgroSuper inspires improvement in Chile's salmon sector
Within the seafood sector, labeling and standards organizations – through the promotion of sustainable production and consumption – continue to prove key in connecting products with end-consumers. While achieving and maintaining such standards requires financial outlay and there is a perceived lack of market rewards supporting sustainable practices, growing consumer awareness around sustainability issues means it’s no longer enough for producers to say that they are being responsible; they need to provide hard evidence of the fact, according to Brenda de Swart, Rabobank’s head of sustainability for Chile and Peru.
To achieve buy-in, particularly in Western markets, consumers increasingly want to know the full story of the product and also have the necessary reasurrances for this to translate into a purchase. And when it comes to aquaculture, a trusted label like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) helps consumers understand and identify what products are responsibly farmed, de Swart said.
With the demand for salmon growing at an unprecedented rate and with Rabobank having considerable exposure in the Chilean salmon farming sector, the Netherlands-headquartered bank has been partnering with WWF over the past six years to accelerate ASC certification among its salmon customers. This collaboration has helped set sustainability goals designed to be objective, measurable, and challenging for the industry.
De Swart told SeafoodSource that the relationship between Rabobank and the NGO started back in 2011 when the two created a partnership that would look to pursue projects in five different countries. One of those countries was Chile and a contract was agreed to in 2012 that decided on their vision for the country’s salmon sector and how they would support it to produce fish in a more sustainable way.
“The main focus of the partnership has always been on ASC certification,” she said. “This is because we think it’s the most complete aquaculture certification – covering most aspects of sustainable production and also includes more social elements than other standards.”
Initially focusing on the biodiversity and environmental elements of ASC before switching attention more toward the social side of the certification, there have been several projects to come out of this relationship, with some of the more recent initiatives involving as many as seven companies together representing some 75 to 80 percent of Chile’s total salmon production.
Just a few weeks ago, a social commitment was signed by nine salmon farming executives that will see these companies make more impactful strategic contributions to the well-being of the communities in which they interact. It is envisaged that this first of its kind agreement will provide the relationship platform that will enable all parties to move toward a more modern, sustainable, and inclusive means of economic development in these territories.
Alongside its support of sustainability initiatives in the aquaculture sector, in more recent years, Rabobank has looked to translate that project experience and client dialogue into financial projects.
“Ultimately, we are a bank, so our core business is to finance companies. However, we are a bank with the mission ‘Growing a Better World Together.’ Through the finance solutions we offer, we want to support our clients to produce in a more sustainable way,” de Swart said.
This focus led to its most recent market development; Chile’s first “green and social loan” arranged with AgroSuper, the country’s leading salmon company and the second-largest salmon producer in the world, with a 7.2 percent share of the overall market.
With technical support and advice from WWF, the loan, which totals USD 100 million (EUR 89.3 million), will finance some of its recent acquisitions in the Chilean salmon sector. It is a seven-year agreement and contains several environmental and social conditions that AgroSuper must comply with, such as a commitment to reduce antibiotic use in salmon farming, increase the number of ASC certifications and implement an aquaculture improvement program for production centers – to get 100 percent of its production sites actively trying to go towards ASC certification. To date, more than 30 of its centers are already certified.
“From the beginning and through [parent company] Los Fiordos, AgroSuper has probably been the most proactive participant in all of the projects that we have done with WWF Chile. Los Fiordos has definitely been a company that has put its money where its mouth is and really tried to improve the environmental and social aspects of salmon production,” de Swart said. “That is why we approached AgroSuper to do this first ever Chilean green loan.”
Rafael Prieto, head of sustainability at AgroSuper, said that the salmon company was happy to work with Rabobank.
“We firmly believe that building a more sustainable world is everybody's job and Rabobank is an important piece in that chain,” he said. “For AgroSuper, it is fundamental to contribute to the sustainable development of the neighboring communities and to care for the environment.”
While Chile has seen a number of so-called “green bonds” issued in the past two years, Rabobank believes that AgroSuper’s loan will inspire several different transactions. Indeed, it has since issued one to a fruit producer that’s also linked to a relevant certification standard.
“I definitely think more will follow,” de Swart said. “More companies are becoming better aware of the reasons why they should focus more on sustainability, and I know that there’s several other companies in Chile’s salmon sector that have a strong focus on sustainable production – some more than others.”
There’s “definitely” also the scope to expand Rabobank’s green and social loans to aquaculture sectors beyond Chile’s borders, she said.
“It’s the focus of Rabobank everywhere – in all countries – to see how we can translate our sustainable efforts into the financial solutions that we offer our clients,” de Swart said. “I expect us to provide more and more sustainable loans. Within these loan contracts, we will include certain environmental and/or social conditions which the client commits to.”
Meanwhile, AquaChile (part of the AgroSuper group) last week announced it would end all of its smolt production in natural lakes in Chile, following an upgrade of its land-based facilities. The company also intends to invest hatcheries to meet its growth projections.
De Swart explained that smolt production in lakes has had a big impact on the biodiversity due to low water-conversion rates. As such, ending this practice has been one of the objectives from the outset of the WWF/Rabobank partnership in Chile.
“We are very happy with this decision of AgroSuper,” she said.