Amazon deforestation due in part to soybean growing

2013-09-17 09:20
An aerial view of the Amazon forest. (AFP)

An aerial view of the Amazon forest. (AFP)

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Rio de Janeiro - Fighting deforestation of the Amazon for cattle raising and farming is one of the great rallying cries of the world's conservationists.

And, while soybean growing's impact on the vast jungle has eased since a moratorium imposed in 2006, Brazil's huge soybean industry is still indirectly responsible for the felling of trees.

The mechanism goes like this: Soybean growers take over land that has already been deforested, worked and worn out by cattle ranchers. The ranchers then move on to burn down fresh areas of Amazon.

Brazil is the world's second largest producer and exporter of soybean, after the US.

Back in 2006, amid pressure from conservationists, the country's main soybean exporters stopped buying crops grown on deforested land.


This stemmed from a campaign launched by Greenpeace at the request of customers like Carrefour and McDonald's.

"This drastically reduced our industry's impact on the Amazon," said Bernardo Machado Pires, head of environmental affairs at the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove).

The moratorium is being observed by huge multinationals such as Bunge, Cargill or ADM, and involves 90% of Brazil's reported soybean exports, mainly to Europe and the US.

"Soybean continues to spread in the Amazon but the moratorium has slowed its frantic expansion," said Michael Becker, a conservationist at WWF Brasil.

Areas that were deforested after 2006 and used to grow soybean increased 57% from 2011 to 2012, compared to more than 350% between 2008 and 2009.

Satellite images and pictures taken from aircraft by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) show that such land now covers 18 400ha.

Persistent deforestation of the Amazon to grow soybean stems from the fact that some buyers, mainly Chinese, have not signed the moratorium.

Still, Brazil has imposed tough penalties on companies that produce soybeans on illegally cleared land or buy from it.
"This agreement shows that consumers no longer tolerate deforestation of the Amazon, but it does not control the indirect impact of soybeans on the jungle," said Marcio Astrini, co-ordinator of Greenpeace Brazil's Amazon protection campaign.

He said growing is often done in places that had been used for cattle raising, which just goes elsewhere and ranchers burn down more trees.

Geographer Mariana Soares Domingues of the University of Sao Paulo, studies the process in the arboricultural state of Mato Grosso.

"Cattle ranchers burn down fresh jungle, plant grass from airplanes and then bring in cattle," she said.

"After a few years these pastures have been worn out, the cattle raising operations move on to deforest some place else and soybean growing takes over on these abandoned plots of land," she added.

"The soybean industry has an indirect responsibility," said Pires, of Abiove. "It buys land that has already been cleared, which is easier to plant, and the cattle raising moves to areas that are less expensive, in other words, the jungle. Thus are the dynamics of agriculture in these regions," he said.
Read more on:    environment

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