Deforested Area in the Amazon. Single tree in a soy field next to rainforest, south of Santarem and along the road BR163. Cutting through the Brazilian Amazon from north to south over a vast distance of 1700 km is a federal highway called the BR 163. For the past 20 years the highway has been one of the major drivers of deforestation in the region.

We didn't know which way the axe would swing today, so to speak, regarding the extension of a landmark agreement about soya cultivation in the Amazon. And fortunately, it wasn’t the rainforest that got hit. Neither did the soya traders, though, who smartly agreed to renew the Soya Moratorium until the end of the year, but then that’s it.

Until that time, major traders will not sell soya that may be linked to deforestation in the Amazon. Since deforestation has been on the rise in the rainforest recently, this is a significant outcome.

The Soya Moratorium was the result of a Greenpeace campaign in 2006, which exposed big brands that were purchasing crops linked to deforestation in the Amazon. And it has, without doubt, helped protect the Amazon, while proving to be good for business too.

Formed through the Amazon Soya Moratorium agreement, the Soya Working Group is responsible for oversight and enforcement .

From the time the moratorium was only being bandied about as an idea to now, a growing coalition of businesses, third sector organisations and the Brazilian government has been for it. McDonald’s led the way in calling for the moratorium to continue beyond January 2014, and was joined in this by Carrefour, Nestlé, Tesco, Ahold, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Asda among others.

Deforestation in figures

A couple of months ago, the Brazilian government announced a 28 per cent increase in Amazon deforestation rates. This was the first data on Amazon deforestation to see the light of day since Brazil controversially changed its Forest Code in 2012. This move, backed by the country’s powerful agriculture lobby, weakened legislation on forest conservation and land use.

Worryingly, the two states that produce the most soya, Para and Mato Grosso, have experienced the greatest increase in deforestation since 2012. Deforestation in Mato Grosso went up by over fifty per cent in one year, and jumped more than a third in Para. Only 2 square kilometers, representing 0.08% in Para, were actually authorized for clearing. In Maranhao, a new frontier in soya production, deforestation has increased by over forty per cent.

By renewing the moratorium this time around, the soya traders have shown they recognise the progress made regarding Amazon conservation as well as the need to do more. They are also being business savvy as they are clearly listening to their customers’ demands for Brazilian soya without deforestation.

It will be an enormous challenge to ensure sufficient safeguards are worked out and agreed by the end of 2014, especially with deforestation on the rise again and new soya export infrastructure being in the pipeline at the heart of the Amazon.

Map showing what the Amazon soya moratorium is helping to protect.

The Soya Moratorium currently monitors 62 municipalities responsible for almost all of the soya produced in the Amazon. In this immense region, over 8 million hectares are covered by forested lands suitable for soya cultivation, but none of it is officially protected. That’s three times the size of Belgium.

What needs to be done in 2014

Brazil’s altered Forest Code centres on a system where farmers register their properties called the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR). It’s still being developed and needs to be fast-tracked to be in any way effective.

The task ahead for the Soya Working Group (GTS) is to design a mechanism to replace the moratorium once it expires. This is to be developed and tested over 2014. It will focus on the implementation of the Federal CAR (SICAR), but much more is needed.

Ultimately, any agreement that replaces the Soya Moratorium must be an even more robust system to prevent these forests being lost to greed.

Deforesting the Amazon for soy before and after 2006


Daniela Montalto is the Amazon Campaign Project Leader for Greenpeace International.