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October 17, 2011

Soybeans Not Considered Major Factor in Amazon Deforestation

In June of 2006 a moratorium was put in place that prohibited the production or sale of soybeans that were grown on newly deforested areas in the Amazon Region of Brazil. The moratorium was the result of cooperation between the federal government, grain companies, agricultural processors, food manufactures, grocery stores, food retailers, and environmental groups. The goal of the moratorium was to demonstrate to international buyers that soybean production in Brazil was not the cause of illegally deforestation in the Amazon Region. In other words, they wanted to dispel the notion that the Amazon is being burned to grow soybeans.

The Institute of Space Studies in Brazil (Inpe) uses satellite technology to monitor 375,000 hectares of newly deforested areas in the Amazon Region. Within Inpe, the Soybean Working Group (GTS) has the ability to detect in real time if soybeans were planted on any of these newly deforested areas. If it is determined that soybean were planted in these areas, the farmer will be fined and he will not be allowed to sell any of his production to any of the grain companies participating in the project.

Since the moratorium was put in place five years ago, it has essentially eliminated soybean production as being a cause of deforestation in the Amazon Region. According to Abiove (the Brazilian Vegetable Oil Processors Association), of the 375,000 hectares of newly deforested land in the Amazon Region of Brazil that are being monitored by satellite, only 0.3% was planted to soybeans. During the last growing season, 11,200 hectares of soybeans were planted in these areas, which was up from the 6,200 hectares planted during the 2009/10 growing season. While the increase is of some concern, it still represents only a very tiny fraction of the overall area. Researchers suspect that the increase in soybean production was related to the development of stricter environmental rules and that a few individual farmers wanted to produce a crop of soybeans before the stricter rules took effect.

The original moratorium was put in place in 2006 and renewed on an annual basis. It has recently been renewed for a two-year period until January 31, 2013. If you look at the lowland Amazon Forest regions of Mato Grosso, Rondonia, and Para, there are 1.96 million hectares of soybean production within those areas, but essentially, all of these areas were put into soybean production before the moratorium took effect.

The Brazilian Congress is in the process of developing new environmental legislation which is called the Forestry Code. When the new legislation is finally agreed to, some of these areas of soybean production may be required to revert back to forest, but the entire Forestry Code is still being debated in the Brazilian Congress and a final resolution is not expected before the end of the year.

The membership of Soybean Working Group include diverse organizations such as Abiove, Greenpeace, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Amazon Research Institute, and others. The organization was the result of several years of discussions between agricultural producers, agricultural companies, end users, and environmental groups and it is considered a prototype of how these various groups can work together to achieve a common goal.