Landmark Amazon soy moratorium extended

Feature story - June 17, 2008
We've received good news about the ongoing campaign to protect the Amazon rainforest: the landmark two year old "soy moratorium," brought about after we demonstrated that the rainforest was being cleared to make way for soy farming, has been extended for another year.

The Amazon campaign 

Rising international demand for soya had led many farmers to drive deforestation to make way for soya cultivation. Back in 2006, we published ' Eating up the Amazon', a report on our investigation into the links between soya in the supply chains of leading international food companies and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. At the same time, we dressed up as chickens and heckled McDonald's, one of the companies using soya from the Amazon for Chicken McNuggets back then. The costumes were sweaty but lucky for us (and the planet), McDonalds quickly reacted and agreed to join us and lead a call for a change.

Responding to this pressure, the major soya traders operating in Brazil announced a two year moratorium which came into effect in July 2006, stopping for the time being the trade in soya grown on newly deforested land. Although recent figures show an increase in Amazon deforestation rates, after three years of decline, the first field evaluation show that the soya harvested this year in the Brazilian Amazon has not come from newly deforested areas. In other words, the moratorium is doing its job and halting soya related forest destruction, despite the pressure from rising soya prices.


Companies doing the right thing 

But two years have not been long enough to establish permanent solutions to halt deforestation related to soya farming and without an extension much of the hard work done to date would have been lost. Credit for the extension goes primarily to two of our, umm, favourite allies - big business and government.

The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove), which represents soya traders, has recently been under huge pressure from producers who wanted to weaken the moratorium by allowing soya plantations in areas not permitted under the existing agreement. Despite the pressure, in a press conference held in Brasilia, Abiove has just confirmed that it will back the moratorium for another year. "Abiove's decision shows that it is possible for a leading agri-business company to ensure food production without destroying forests", said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon campaign coordinator.

Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc told reporters: "The moratorium is a successful initiative by civil society and the soya industry. The Federal Government is entering the process now and is committed to register and license all rural properties in the Amazon biome. Inspired by the success of this initiative, the Brazilian government is negotiating similar approaches with the timber and beef industries."

"We are delighted to see the new environment minister take an active role in ensuring the continuation of the moratorium. Such high level support helps Abiove and the traders convince farmers to support the initiative. His support also serves as a warning to those who continue to destroy forests that their soya will be rejected by the market," concluded Adario.

Not only has Minc come out in support of the extension, he has committed the government to speeding up efforts for the registration and mapping of rural properties in the Amazon. This is essential if we are to ensure compliance by all parties to the laws dictating which land may be used for farming and which is off limits for deforestation.

Much more still to be done 

This announcement means we're one step closer to achieving that. Further measures include curbing illegal occupation of public lands, harsh penalties for illegal deforestation, driving development to areas away from the rainforest and increasing support for sustainable methods of production.

Rainforests and climate change 

Not only is the forest a natural wonder but it is home to millions of indigenous peoples. In addition, recent science has proven that tropical forest destruction is responsible for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector. Stopping deforestation of the Amazon would bring us much closer to keeping global temperature rise at below 2°C, which most scientists believe is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.