For eight years, the Soya Moratorium has protected the Amazon rainforest from deforestation. It has just been renewed for the eighth time. But what happens when it ends for good, 18 months from now?

Amazon Rainforest Cleared for Soya © Greenpeace / Alberto Cesar Araújo

The Soya Moratorium was the industry’s answer to our campaign to stop soya from destroying the Amazon. In 2006 we exposed companies like McDonald’s that were buying soya produced through deforestation.

Those companies threatened to cut off their suppliers if they didn’t stop. That led the commodities traders that control Brazil’s soya industry to stop buying from farmers that persisted in clearing the rainforest.
Over the last year there have been extensive, often difficult, negotiations about extending that moratorium and, although it was renewed for another 18 months yesterday the industry made it clear they are not up for further extensions.

That means that if the soya industry and its customers want to maintain their supply of Amazon deforestation-free soya, they need to work fast. The moratorium is now set to end for good in May 2016.  At present there is no other mechanism to replace it.

The challenge of eliminating soya produced through deforestation will not end when the moratorium expires. In any case, even if the problem were solved in the Amazon, soya is also being grown at the expense of many other forests.

But there are a few reasons to be hopeful.
For one thing, almost everyone agrees that deforestation is a problem. In September, companies and governments met at a UN summit in New York and pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. That promise builds on a 2010 commitment from 400 of the world’s leading consumer goods companies, and on the individual commitments that some companies have made.

Cargill, one of the soya traders behind the moratorium, was also at that UN summit. It made a separate commitment to ensure all of its commodities were deforestation-free – including soya.

If Cargill is serious about this – and if the other traders follow its lead – then it’s a bit of a game-changer. Commodities – palm oil, soya, beef and paper – are the main reason why forests are being cut down. But focusing on one commodity at a time is a sticking plaster solution. Instead of protecting one forest from one crop, we need to be talking about protecting all forests from all commodities.

The moratorium has done a great job of preventing soya expansion in the Brazilian Amazon. But it has not stopped soya farms from springing up throughout South America – in the Chaco forests of northern Argentina or Paraguay, the Brazilian cerrados and other critical ecosystems. Nor does the moratorium apply to the other commodities driving the destruction of the Amazon.

The next 18 months gives us a chance to start addressing those problems, so that the Soya Moratorium evolves into a global commitment to stop trading in forest destruction.

Deforestation will only stop when companies take responsibility for all of the grains, oil and paper they buy – and ensure their suppliers don’t do business with anyone engaged in deforestation. The Soya Moratorium was the start of that journey.

Let’s celebrate that – then let’s take the next step towards the complete protection of the world’s forests.

Richard George is a forests campaigner at Greenpeace UK