Brazil’s soy moratorium a success story

New research reveals that the corporate soy moratorium in Brazil has helped to drastically reduce the amount of deforestation linked to soy production in the region – far better than government policy alone.

The so-called Soy Moratorium came into effect in 2006, following a report from Greenpeace and under pressure from consumers that soy production was deforesting the Brazilian Amazon. Large companies such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, along with commodity traders like Cargill, agreed to no longer purchase soy from farmers who cleared rainforest for soy production.

In a new study evaluating the Soy Moratorium, researchers in the U.S. and Brazil have discovered that the moratorium has helped to drastically reduce the amount of deforestation linked to soy production in the region and was much better at curbing it than government policy alone.

“What we found is that before the moratorium, 30 per cent of soy expansion occurred through deforestation, and after the moratorium, almost none did; only about 1 per cent of the new soy expansion came at the expense of forest,” says Holly Gibbs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Between 2001 and 2006, prior to the moratorium, soybean fields in the Brazilian Amazon expanded by 1 million hectares, contributing to record deforestation rates. By 2014, after eight years of the moratorium, almost no additional forest was cleared to grow new soy, even though soy production area had expanded another 1.3 million hectares. Farmers were planting on already cleared land.

Brazil, Gibbs says, has some of the world’s most stringent environmental legislation. Public policies, including increased enforcement of state and federal laws, have gone a long way to slow the destruction of rain forest. Yet, the study shows that “government policy alone is simply not enough,” Gibbs says.

For instance, Brazil’s Forest Code dictates that 80 per cent of Amazon rain forest on a person’s property must be held in reserve; they can only clear 20 per cent. But by using satellite-based imagery covering the Brazilian Amazon, the researchers found that just 2 per cent of soy farmers have maintained their legal reserve and even farmers abiding by the moratorium were still illegally clearing forest on their properties, just not for growing soy.

Additionally, the researchers found that while soy-linked deforestation diminished in the Amazon biome, 20 per cent of new soy areas created in the Cerrado over the study period directly led to deforestation. Expanding the moratorium to the Cerrado would reduce this conversion.

The researchers hope their findings will help policy makers and industry leaders make informed decisions going forward.


Photo credit: Lima Pix, flickr/Creative Commons

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