Saving the Amazon Rainforest Through Agricultural Certification
New Certification Scheme for Cattle, Soy
Tina Butler, mongabay.com
June 3, 2005
John Cain Carter is a Texan rancher who owns 20,000 acres (8100 hectares) in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso and who has an unlikely relationship with the forest and its protectors. He believes that landowners, despite being held in low regard by environmentalists as the production of Brazilian beef and soya is currently the main threat to the rainforest in this region, may be the potential saviors of the rainforest. Carter, among other somewhat environmentally-conscious, yet profit-oriented landowners, wants to promote responsible agricultural practices by encouraging consumers to provide incentives to growers and producers.
In the past year, over 10,000 square miles (26,130 kilometers) of rainforest were destroyed in Brazil, the second highest level of deforestation on record. The clearing was performed mainly in anticipation of ranchers and farmers coming to the region. Supposedly, laws restrict deforestation to only 20 percent of privately-owned rainforest land, while a network of preserves protects some public land, but in practice, this is not usually followed or enforced.
Some environmental groups have opted to cooperate with landowners rather than continue to fight a losing battle. This type of cooperation originated with the logging industry, where furniture makers buying sustainably-harvested wood could hawk their environmentally friendly products to green consumers. Select ranchers are now working to adapt this approach to the agricultural industry which does even more harm to the rainforest than plain logging. One environmental group, the Nature Conservancy, announced an agreement where Cargill, a large agriculture company in the United States, will buy soya only from farmers who obey the Brazilian conservation laws or those working towards compliance.
Mr. Carter is backing a new NGO called the Alianca da Terra, which hopes to provide a link between producers and environmentalists by promoting standards of responsible practice that appease both sides. Ranching is considered to be an even bigger threat to the forests than soya production. Worldwide concerns about hoof and mouth disease among other cattle-based ills is already propelling Brazilian producers towards certification. Should the Alianca da Terra succeed in its mission, all Brazilian agricultural products will carry a seal that reflects health, environmental and social standards.
Some question whether agricultural certification will actually change illegal practices, as problems with logging persist. With agriculture, the adoption and enforcement of certification is likely to be even more difficult, as Brazil is the largest buyer of beef and China is the largest market for soya and has shown no qualms about environmentally unsound practices. The success of the certification program hinges on reaching a consensus between agricultural producers and consumers. Resolution seems difficult as landowners want the 20 percent limit on private land to be raised and environmentalists naturally want this number lowered. Mr. Carter argues that even with increases in logging, much of the forest will still be preserved, but without cooperation from landowners, conservationists will see everything lost.