It's been a year since the start of a two-year moratorium on trading soy from freshly deforested areas of the Amazon. It's clear that it is having a positive impact and it looks like the Brazilian government is following suit with a land registration program.
After we spent three years investigating then exposing the environmental impacts of the expanding soy trade into the Amazon basin, McDonald's and other leading European food retailers formed a unique alliance with Greenpeace to demand action from soy traders to stop buying soy from deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. After a lot of pressure from this alliance, the US commodities giants Cargill, ADM, Bunge, and Brazilian-owned Maggi Group - along with the rest of the soy trade in Brazil were brought to the negotiating table eventually agreeing to a two-year moratorium on buying soy from newly deforested land in the Amazon.
Eating up the Amazon
Soy is the leading cash crop in Brazil and soy farming - often illegal - is now a key cause, along with cattle ranching and illegal logging, of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Sounds horrible right? Well unfortunately, it gets worse. Violent conflict over land rights is not uncommon in the Amazon and most of this soy is actually being exported to Europe to feed chicken, pigs and cows for meat products. Our team looked beyond the fields and forests of Brazil to trace the entire soy chain from its beginnings in North American boardrooms, through Brazil to its ends in European feedlots, restaurants and supermarkets. Our findings were released in April 2006 in a landmark report: "Eating up the Amazon" that in part lead to the moratorium itself. Read more.
Firm commitments to change
A down turn in the soy industry's economic fortunes have cooled the demand for new plantations, but it remains clear that the moratorium is also reducing deforestation in the rainforest. For example, the reduction in the planted area with soy in Santarém is a clear result of the moratorium and Greenpeace pressure on Cargill's highly controversial soy port. In the Amazon state of Pará, 41% less land has been used to plant soy since the moratorium came into effect.
In line with the moratorium efforts, the Brazilian Government has committed to fast track a land ownership registration system in the Amazon clarifying the legal status of the properties. This is a key program for effective enforcement of environmental protection laws, especially in soy plantation areas.
We are happy to hear a recommitment from our industry partners. McDonald's and Cadbury Schweppes have said: "We recognize that there's no time to lose to protect the Amazon. The first year of this effort has shown good and positive progress, and we're committed to making sure that this continues. Should some of the measures take longer than the stated two years to implement, we expect the moratorium to remain in place until they are fully implemented."
Greenpeace is working to ensure that the moratorium stays until proper procedures for legality and governance are in place and there is an agreement with the Brazilian Government and key stakeholders on long term protection for the Amazon rainforest. In truth, the ultimate success of the whole process and indeed the fate of much of the rainforest itself really depends on a monitoring system, which is not yet in place. Until this is properly implemented, soy consumer companies must remain engaged to make sure soy will not leave further destruction behind. Businesses around the world have to take responsibility and employ solutions that will halt rainforest destruction, protect rainforest inhabitants and tackle climate change.