Soy Traders Agree to Protect Amazon, But Not Biologically Rich Cerrado

seeds On July 24, the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Producers (ABIOVE) and the National Grains Exporters' Association (ANEC), an industry group representing the world’s leading soy exporters, agreed to a two-year moratorium on using soybeans from land that has been cleared for soy cultivation in the Amazon region. The announcement came in the wake of decisions by fast-food giant McDonald’s and other major food retailers to stop selling chicken fed on soy from these ecologically fragile areas, putting growing pressure on the soy producers.

Both rising consumer concerns and intense activist campaigning—particularly by the environmental group Greenpeace—contributed to the industry moves. In April, Greenpeace released a report outlining the links between soy cultivation and regional deforestation, slavery, and violence; it later helped broker the negotiations to discourage these destructive practices. According to the report, vast areas of Amazon forest are cleared each year by slave laborers and replanted with soybean monocultures, destroying valuable habitat for birds, insects, and other animals and contributing to significant human rights abuses.

While celebrating the recent victory, Greenpeace warns that more needs to be done for the ban to have lasting effects. “The soya traders decision to agree a two year moratorium on Amazon deforestation is a welcome first step, but the key issue is real action on the ground,” said campaign director John Sauven. “Within two years, we want to see proper procedures for legality and governance being put in place and real measures to be introduced to protect the Amazon rainforest.”

The agreement does not extend to what some consider to be an even more imperiled ecosystem: the cerrado, a biologically rich savannah that covers 23 percent of Brazil’s territory, or an area the size of Mexico. According to Donald Sawyer, director of the Instituto Sociedade, População e Natureza (ISPN), while about 20 percent of the Amazon forest has been deforested, as much as 80 percent of the cerrado has been cleared, mainly for soybean cultivation and cattle pasture. In addition to possessing vast biological wealth, including more than 10,000 different species of plants, 935 varieties of birds, and nearly 300 species of mammals, the cerrado feeds several major South American water basins, including the Amazon River.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.