Tougher action needed to stop soy deforestation in Brazil

News / 7 Dec 2022

New Trase data highlights carbon emissions from the continued rapid expansion of soy plantations across Brazil.

New data shows that soy plantations continue to rapidly replace forests, savannah, grasslands and other ecosystems across Brazil. The findings released by Trase, our partnership initiative with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), showed that in 2020, Brazil’s soy production on recently deforested and converted land released 103 million tonnes of CO₂ – 11% of the country’s total annual land-use change emissions.

Soy plantations expanded most significantly onto native vegetation in the Cerrado, the largest savannah in South America. In 2020, soy took over 264,000 ha of recently deforested and converted lands – an area almost twice the size of São Paulo.

There is also active clearance of natural grasslands in the Pampas, one of Brazil’s most threatened biomes, and the Amazon, despite the Soy Moratorium agreed by traders. In 2020 in the Amazon, soy covered 76,400 ha of recently deforested land.

Voluntary zero-deforestation commitments from traders only covered about 50% of exports in 2020. The three largest, established traders – Bunge, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland – continue to be linked to sourcing regions with the most deforestation and conversion. But following rapid expansion into trading Brazilian soy since 2017, Olam Group is now among the top five traders linked to soy conversion, together with Gavilon.

“It’s clear that voluntary action by companies isn’t going far enough, fast enough,” said Dr Tiago Reis, Trase’s Engagement Lead for South America. “For president-elect Lula to achieve the environmental ambitions he set out at COP27, the new administration needs to begin by creating a public, universal and fully transparent traceability system, encompassing all agricultural commodities.”

China has grown rapidly to become the largest destination market for Brazilian soy. In 2020, China’s imports were linked to 229,000 ha of soy deforestation, followed by Brazil’s own consumption at 102,000 ha. The EU’s soy deforestation exposure is smaller but still significant, at 29,800 ha in 2020. 

The EU has just agreed landmark regulation which requires companies to conduct due diligence of their supply chains and demonstrate their products are deforestation-free. But in its current form the law doesn’t include ”Other Wooded Lands” – meaning biomes like the Cerrado and the Pampas remain unprotected.

Helen Bellfield,  Global Canopy’s Policy Director and Trase Deputy Director said: “This is very welcome news for the world’s forests. This landmark law raises the bar for the agricultural sector. But the EU’s ambitions on biodiversity and the climate would be well served by accelerating the inclusion of ‘Other Wooded Lands’ – now put on the shelf for a year while soy fields and pastures spread rapidly across vulnerable savannahs such as the Cerrado.”

Trase data shows that soy deforestation and conversion is concentrated in a small number of areas, meaning that focused action can have a significant impact. Dr Tiago Reis added: “A well-implemented, risk-based approach to due diligence could facilitate exports from low-risk areas to markets seeking deforestation and conversion-free supply, while targeting tougher measures at higher risk areas. By increasing transparency in their supply chains, responsible producers can credibly demonstrate to buyers and regulators that their supplies are low risk.”

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