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Soy moratorium in Amazon maintaining its effectiveness

The moratorium on clearing Amazon rainforest for soy farms in Brazil appears to be maintaining its effectiveness for a fifth straight year, reports the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (ABIOVE).

Forest monitoring undertaken by ABIOVE found soy on 11,698 hectares of forest land deforested after July 2006, the cut-off date for the moratorium. By comparison, some 4.2 million hectares of forest were cleared across the Amazon biome during the same period. Of that, nearly 370,000 hectares are located in soy-producing municipalities, indicating that soy cultivation has directly driven only a small fraction (3 percent) of deforestation since the moratorium was enacted.

The soybean moratorium was a direct product of a Greenpeace campaign launched in 2006. The campaign linked soy-based feed used to fatten chickens for fast-food chains to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The main target—McDonald immediately demanded its suppliers provide deforestation-free soy, presenting the industry with a daunting dilemma: move towards environmental respectability or lose one of its biggest, and most influential, customers. The largest soy players—whose vast portfolio of commodities are sold globally—chose the former, agreeing to a moratorium on soy grown on newly deforested lands that has changed the way commodities are produced in the Amazon. The moratorium, which was established by ABIOVE and the National Association of Cereal Exporters (ANEC), has been extended every year since. Soy producers who fail to abide by the moratorium cannot sell their product to ABIOVE or ANEC, which account for more than 90 percent of Brazil’s domestic market.

Soy in the Brazilian Amazon

However, despite the update from ABIOVE, Greenpeace warned that the moratorium may be endangered by proposed changes to Brazil’s forest code, which requires property owners maintain forest cover on their lands. Greenpeace noted that Brazil’s satellite monitoring system has detected a sharp increase in deforestation in soy-producing states over the past 12 months, which it says is a consequence of speculation that the forest code will be relaxed.

“[Forest Code] changes would allow an amnesty for past forest crimes, creating an incentive for illegal activity now and leading to an increase in deforestation before the law has even been changed. This can only get worse if the proposed amendments to the Forest Code go through,” wrote Sarah Shoraka in a post on Greenpeace’s blog. “That’s why we are not celebrating the moratorium’s fifth year. Instead we are using the anniversary as an opportunity to make the moratorium even stronger. The threat to the Forest Code means that the moratorium becomes even more important as a tool to drive the changes needed in Brazil to reach our zero deforestation goal.”

Greenpeace added that the private sector—especially export-oriented businesses—are worried that changes to the forest code could tarnish their image abroad if deforestation increases.

“Companies supporting the moratorium have also expressed their concerns about changes to the Forest Code publicly for the first time. Their voices have added to those of scientists, campaigning organizations and the majority of the Brazilian public, showing that concerned companies are capable of trading with Brazil while keeping their products free from deforestation.”

Paulo Adario, Director of Greenpeace-Brazil, added that the moratorium has proved that agricultural production can grow without deforestation.

“Over the five years of the moratorium, deforestation of the Amazon has fallen and soybean exports have increased,” he said. “It is now necessary to strengthen the commitment and create permanent governance bases to provide the market with a guarantee that its demand for zero deforestation in the [supply] chain is met.”

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