The Amazon soya moratorium

From the brink of disaster to a solution in the making

The story of the Amazon soya moratorium is one of potential disaster that turned into hope. The solution continues to evolve across Brazil's jungle of politics, business and society.

Brazil – a land of contrasts, dramatic human history, and incredible natural resources. Within its boundaries lies 60% of the Amazon rainforest, already under threat from illegal logging and cattle farming. This is the story of the rise of soya in the Brazilian economy and how it threatened to become the next big Amazon destroyer.

The soya moratorium has become a case study in how industry, governments, consumers and NGOs can work together on market-driven solutions to environmental problems. It has brought about changes in government policy, and has formed the basis of further forest protection agreements.

The importance of the Amazon

Holding one fifth of all the fresh water in the world, the Amazon contains 53% of the Earth’s remaining tropical rainforest cover. It also provides 20% of the oxygen we breathe and is estimated to hold between 90-140 billion tonnes of C02. The Brazilian portion of the Amazon Biome covers 4.2 million km2 and is home to over 24 million people.

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The rise of soya

Although an important crop in Asia for thousands of years, soya only became a large scale crop for animal feed in the last century: Between 70% to 90% of the world's soya crop is used to feed livestock. The increasing global demand for soya has brought about massive growth in the Brazilian agricultural sector.

In 2013, Brazil beat the US to become the number one soya producer for the second year in a row.

Build it and they will come

A major driver of the soya frontier in the Amazon has been the development of infrastructure providing access to the international markets. Nearing completion, the BR163, or "soya highway", is the road that links the established soya growing areas in the centre of Brazil to the port of Santarém, up north in the Amazon. It has opened up the area to corruption, land grabbers, and massive-scale farms.

“As the remaining available land in Northern Mato Grosso continues to be purchased at a rapid pace, increasing land values have pushed soybean production into the new frontier areas. These are areas with more affordable prices and lower transportation costs due to port options such as Santarém...” US GAIN 2005 report

The BR163 is over 4,500 kilometres long and is in the final stages of asphalting . This will allow year-round access from the southern regions of Brazil to Santarém in the heart of the Amazon. The effects of road building on forest cover can be seen in this Google Earth image of the Amazon river, Santarém and part of the BR163.

At the end of the BR163, where it meets the Amazon river in Santarém, in 2001 the US-based multinational corporation Cargill built a US$20m soya storing and export terminal. The port provides access to the grain ships that move soya internationally, providing big savings on transport costs. Although having been officially ruled illegal from its conception in 1999, and despite various court rulings and community protests thereafter, the controversial terminal opened without any environmental impact study being carried out. In mid 2012, almost ten years after being opened, the port was finally legalized by the Pará state environmental agency.

Community reaction

Affected communities from Santarém and the surrounding farming and forest areas came out to protest against the development of the Cargill soya terminal, and the land-grabbing and violence that followed.

With the development of the soya terminal in Santarém, farmers from the south moved into the heart of the Amazon, buying cheap land from smallholders – some of whom would end up in the expanding slums of the city. Whole communities were displaced by this land rush and, in some cases, corruption and violence was used to remove those who didn’t want to sell up. In the city of Santarém, local farmers’ unions and community groups protested the expansion of the soya industry and the destruction of the forest and their land.

“Land thievery is committed through corruption, strong arm tactics, and fraudulent titles and is so widespread that Brazilians have a name for it, “grilagem,” from the Portuguese word “grilo,” or cricket. Grileiros have been known to age phony land titles in a drawer of hungry crickets to make them look old. By one estimate, 500 people have been murdered by grileiros in the last 20 years over land titles in the Amazon” National Geographic writer Scott Wallace after his visit to the BR163 Jan 2007

Who was driving the soya frontier?

The situation in the Brazilian Amazon was desperate, with the second highest levels of deforestation on record occurring in 2004/5. With soya on the up and up, it was important to identify just who was responsible, who benefited, and who had the power to stop the momentum of forest destruction for soya farming.

Rollover each player for more info their role in the expansion of soya in the Amazon.

Taking action

In April 2006 Greenpeace released a report called Eating up the Amazon, showing how soya was on the way to becoming a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Companies like McDonald’s were exposed to the reality of the “chain of custody”: how the meat that they and other fast food and supermarket chains were serving up was likely fed on soya grown on Amazon destruction.

The soya chain of custody - how the demand for soya in Europe was helping to drive Amazon forest destruction.

Roll over/tap to see how the destruction of Amazon rainforest for soya was being fuelled by demand for meat and dairy products in Europe. Uncovering who is profiting from forest destruction through following the supply chain is one of the ways we can make change happen.

The campaign was ramped up with protests around the world, focusing on McDonald’s as a major buyer of Cargill's soya in Brazil. In Europe, the fast food restaurants were invaded by seven-foot-tall chickens, and in Santarém, Greenpeace took non-violent direct action, attempting to shut down Cargill’s illegal terminal. The local communities in and around Santarém appeared on the streets, protesting against the influx of the soya industry. Clearly a solution was needed quickly. Industry started moving.

Lead by Mcdonald's, a number of European companies importing soya from Brazil came together to form what would become the European Soy Customer Group. The demand was for action from soya traders to ensure that Amazon deforestation was removed from their supply chains.

Culmination and making it possible

Just months later, on 24 July 2006, the Soya Moratorium was signed by members of ABIOVE (Brazilian vegetable oil industries association) and ANEC (National grain exporters association), who controlled 92% of Brazilian soya production. Initially proposed for two years, this industry-led voluntary agreement ensured that traders did not purchase soya grown in the Amazon on land deforested after 2006*.  A working group – comprised of soya traders (SWG), producers, NGOs, consumer companies and the government – was then established to oversee its implementation and a way forward. Until 2014, the Soya Moratorium monitored 76 municipalities responsible for almost all the soya produced in the Brazilian Amazon.

*This timeline was changed in 2014 - to 2008 to be in line with the forest code and made possible the renewal of the moratorium.

Since first agreed, the moratorium has been renewed every year, allowing for the signatories work on an effective long-term solution to take its place. In 2008, additional support came from the government, signing the moratorium and bringing with it Banco de Brazil, the main supplier of agricultural loans, and the Brazilian Space Agency (INPE).

The soya working group

The key to the moratorium’s ongoing success has been the functioning of the Soya Working Group (SWG), chaired by Paulo Adario from Greenpeace and Carlo Lovatelli from ABIOVE, representing “both sides” of the table. This co-leadership has been incredibly important in building trust and overcoming preconceptions; enabling the enforcement and ongoing development of a longer-term solution to Amazon forest destruction for soya.

Global commodity traders like Cargill, ADM, Bunge, Dreyfus and the Brazilian Amaggi: The moratorium is based on a voluntary agreement by the traders. Traders represent the soya farmers as well as their own interests.

Civil society: NGOs bring the demands of civil society and environmental sciences to the table.

Global consumers: Consumers put pressure on international consumer brands, which in turn put pressure on the trading companies to take action.

Global consumer brands: Brands add to the pressure placed on traders to keep their supply chain free from Amazon deforestation. The European Soy Customer Group continues to follow up on the implementation of the moratorium and has direct input into the Soya Working Group in Brazil, directly and through its relations with different Soya Working Group stakeholders.

Brazilian Government: Joined in 2008, bringing with them the support of the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) to develop monitoring systems.

Banco do Brasil: The government brought with it the main supplier of credit to farmers in the Amazon, and made it a requirement that those farms meet the moratorium’s criteria, including having an environmental plan in place before being granted agricultural loans.

The SWG had three initial strands:
1. Mapping and monitoring (How to identify and enforce the moratorium)
2. Education and outreach (Focusing on educating farmers on the value of natural systems, how the moratorium affected them and improving farming techniques)
3. Institutional relationships (bringing the government into the solution)

The group meets regularly to bring the results of the various strands together, and to forge the next steps. Since the last renewal in 2016, which extended the agreement by an indefinite amount of time, the group has been discussing criterias, indicators and performance that can amplify and strengthen the scope of the moratorium.

How it works

Soya in the Amazon biome is planted from September onwards, depending on the region, for harvest four months later. Effective monitoring means the Soya Working Group can identify farms that don’t comply with the moratorium and ensure that traders do not market any soya grown in the Amazon on land deforested after 2008.

Mapping technology

The Brazilian Space Agency (INPE) has developed a methodology for identifying areas of deforestation and potential soya crops using the satellite imagery provided by PRODES (another project run by INPE to identify areas of tropical rainforest deforestation). INPE’s methodology was incorporated into the SWG soya monitoring system.

Dr. Bernardo Ruddorf, the scientist who worked together with the SWG to develop the monitoring methodology, has since retired and now the monitoring is executed by Agrosatelite company which validates the results presented by INPE. The resulting maps provide the potential locations of soya crops grown on any land deforested after 2008. INPE’s methodologies for the Soya Working Group help identify land use, and make monitoring such vast and inaccessible areas possible.

“The use of satellite images reduced the need for aerial survey to identify soybean planting by almost 80%, and allowed for the monitoring of all deforested areas greater than 25 ha.” Bernardo Rudorff - former scientist at INPE, currently leading Agrosatélite company.

Farms or farmers responsible for growing the soya in contravention of the moratorium are then identified by the trading company members of the moratorium agreement. This information is brought forward to the SWG, which then ensures that the contracts with these farmers are cancelled. First time offenders are given the opportunity to recover the forest and sign a written commitment of not growing soy in areas deforested after 2008 in order to continue trading. Repeat offenders are placed on a list barring them from transacting with the trading companies or securing loans from the Banco do Brasil.

Effectiveness and cost

Since 2006, soya complex (bean, meal and oil) exports from Brazil has more than doubled. The price of one tonne of soya has increased by more than 70% (in dollar). This is due to Brazil embracing the latest agricultural technology, better farming practices that conserve soil, as well as utilizing former pasture land, cleared long before the moratorium, for their crops.

The trading companies who profit most from the soya industry finance the moratorium, with NGOs bringing in additional expertise to ensure the legitimacy of the agreement. A Brazilian NGO called IMAFLORA officially ensures that proper procedures are being carried out.

Amazon soya moratorium timeline


Cargill opens the $20m US dollar soya port in Santarém without the required environmental impact study. The port provides the region with affordable access to the international export market. It remained illegal until mid-2012.


The federal government announces its intention to pave the entire 1,700km of the BR163, known as the soya highway, providing year-round access from the established soya growing territories in central Brazil to the Cargill terminal in Santarém.

1.2 million hectares of soya are planted within the Brazillian Amazon.

Members of civil society groups in and around Santarém gather to protest against Cargill's illegal port. Greenpeace joins the protests, scaling the illegal terminal building.


GE soya is introduced, providing plants that are more suited to the tropical conditions of the Amazon Biome.


Eating up the Amazon is released on 6 April, coinciding with local protests and international “fowl play”, which sees fast food restaurants playing host to seven-foot-tall chickens .

On 25 July, the Amazon soya moratorium is announced by Brazil’s major soya trading companies, banning the buying of soya grown on land deforested after the agreement was signed.

The Soya Working Group is formed to oversee and develop the moratorium. The group is co-chaired by Carlo Lovatelli (Abiove) and Paulo Adario (Greenpeace). The working relationship of the co-chairs, who represent either side of the debate, has played a vital role in the ongoing success of the moratorium.


The soya terminal built by Cargill is closed down by the Brazilian Environmental Agency IBAMA, pending an assessment of its environmental impact. A month later the port re-opens on the promise of delivering the assessment.

Representatives from McDonald's join Greenpeace in the Amazon to see for themselves the impact of the soya industry.


The soya moratorium is renewed, with the Brazilian government as an additional signatory, committing to the development of a long-term solution. The government support also brings the Brazilian Space Agency (INPE) on board, which will assist in monitoring, and federal bank, Banco do Brasil, which provides the majority of finance to the agriculture sector.


The moratorium is renewed for another year.


The federal government announces that it will be mandatory for all rural properties to be mapped and registered through a digital system known as CAR (Cadastro Ambiental Rural). This is seen as an important step towards the long-term solution, legalising land titles and making identification of illegal deforestation much easier.


The moratorium is renewed for another year.


The moratorium is renewed for another year.


Abiove announces that the moratorium will be renewed for the last time, proposing the Government's forest code and CAR registration as the main components of long-term protection for the Amazon rainforest. Although the agreement depends on voluntary compliance by the signatories, not all signatories agree that the work of the moratorium is yet done.


Despite the drive to end the moratorium, all parties eventually agreed that sufficient mechanisms are not yet in place to ensure that deforestation for soya will not become a threat to the Amazon once again. The moratorium is renewed for two more years, with a caveat that the start date is moved from 2006 to 2008.


Brazilian civil society submitted a bill to Congress to end deforestation in Brazil, the citizen initiative bill had the support of over 1.4 million people. The Soya Moratorium is one of the best case studies showing Zero Deforestation is possible to put into practice.


The moratorium is indefinitely renewed and will last until it is no longer needed. The Soya Working Group is working now to find a permanent tool that align production and conservation of the forest and its people.

Ending the moratorium

A moratorium is, by its nature, a temporary solution. The traders’ decision to end the soya moratorium after 2014 alarmed environmental NGOs, civil society, the government and consumer brands, all of which do not believe that sufficient mechanisms are in place to ensure that deforestation for soya will not become a threat to the Amazon once again.

Deforestation rates rose sharply in 2013, especially in the major soya growing states. On top of this, major soya infrastructure works (Cargill’s terminal expansion and completion of the paving on the BR163) are expected to be completed in the next few years.

The Brazilian government’s main legislation regulating forest protection and land use for agriculture or livestock is the Forest Code. For the Amazon biome, this means landowners must ensure 80% of their land remains forested with only 20% allowed for farming. Implementation of the forest code depends on compliance with CAR - a digital registration system expected to cover the entire country.

Soya customers and NGOs expect the moratorium only to end when it has been replaced by an robust mechanism that provides a longer-term solution. Making this happen is the responsibility of the Brazillian Government and the companies that recognised the breadth of the issue by initiating the Soya Moratorium. These traders must continue to take action for the future of the forest and the planet.

Conclusion: What has been achieved,and how the lessons learned from the moratorium can be used elsewhere

Since the agreement, the threat of soya is no longer seen as a major driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. To ensure that this success continues, long-term, implementable solutions need to be put in place before the moratorium inevitably comes to an end.

Much has changed since the start of the moratorium in 2006. It has influenced another critical breakthrough in the region; the “Amazon Cattle Agreement”.

INPE’s methodologies can be implemented in other areas where illegal deforestation for agriculture may become an issue. The group already trains delegates from around the world in how to use satellite monitoring to track deforestation in tropical forests.

Can we repeat the success and the lessons of the Amazon soya moratorium in other vulnerable forests regions?

“Permanent or even temporary halts to the activities that drive deforestation can have important effects. These moratoria need not be on deforestation itself, but rather on the permits or purchases that drive it. Even when they are initially implemented only for a year or two, moratoria can be renewed repeatedly and in effect become part of the landscape’s new reality—as has happened in Brazil with beef and soy.“ Union of Concerned Scientists (June 2014)


Eating up the Amazon report (Greenpeace 2006)

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