Conservation news

Major global companies commit to halting destruction of Brazilian Cerrado

  • Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon remains historically low. But much of the agricultural development that didn’t occur in the Amazon, it turns out, was simply shifted over to the Cerrado, a vast and highly biodiverse tropical savannah that is the second-largest ecoregion in Brazil.
  • In response to the enormous scale of destruction in the Cerrado, more than 40 Brazilian environmental organizations co-signed the Cerrado Manifesto this past September to “call for immediate action in defense of the Cerrado by companies that purchase soy and meat from within the biome.”
  • Twenty-three global companies, including Carrefour, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s, Nestle, Unilever, and Wal-Mart, responded to that call to action on Wednesday by issuing a statement saying that they “support the objectives defined in the Cerrado Manifesto and commit to working with local and international stakeholders to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in the Cerrado.”

Starting around 2004, the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon began a precipitous decline. By 2012, the rate had dropped about 80 percent, reaching the lowest levels recorded since annual record-keeping began in the late 1980s.

Since then, the deforestation rate has fluctuated — it jumped 16 percent in 2015, for instance, and in 2016 it was up another 29 percent, at which point it had reached the highest levels seen since 2008. But then it dropped again, by 16 percent, between 2016 and 2017, according to preliminary data from Brazil’s national space agency INPE.

Overall, however, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon remains historically low. But much of the agricultural development that didn’t occur in the Amazon, it turns out, was simply shifted over to the Cerrado, a vast and highly biodiverse tropical savannah that is the second-largest ecoregion in Brazil.

INPE data shows that, between 2013 and 2015 alone, nearly 19,000 square kilometers (close to 4.7 million acres) of the Cerrado were destroyed. The main drivers of the ongoing destruction is expansion of industrial agricultural operations and cattle ranching, much of which has so far occurred in areas of native vegetation.

In response to the enormous scale of environmental degradation in the Cerrado, more than 40 Brazilian environmental organizations co-signed the so-called Cerrado Manifesto this past September to “call for immediate action in defense of the Cerrado by companies that purchase soy and meat from within the biome, as well as by investors active in these sectors.” Companies must, according to the Manifesto, adopt policies and commitments to eliminate deforestation and conversion of native vegetation from their supply chains.

Twenty-three global companies, including Carrefour, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s, Nestle, Unilever, and Wal-Mart, responded to that call to action on Wednesday by issuing a statement saying that they “support the objectives defined in the Cerrado Manifesto and commit to working with local and international stakeholders to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in the Cerrado.”

The Brazilian Cerrado is considered the most biodiverse savannah in the world. Photo Credit: Alex Costa via Mighty Earth.

The companies note in the statement that 85 percent of the conversion of the Cerrado’s native vegetation into soy plantations is legal under the Brazilian Forest Code. And Cristiane Mazzetti of Greenpeace Brazil, one of the groups that signed the Cerrado Manifesto, said that about 40 million hectares of the Cerrado could still be deforested legally.

That’s why it’s so critical for these companies to have stated their commitment to severing the links between their supply chains and recently deforested areas, Mazzetti said in a statement: “This is a clear signal to suppliers of these companies that the market will not accept more products from deforestation, whether in the Amazon or the Cerrado. We hope that the next step will be the announcement of concrete purchasing policies to halt any native vegetation loss in the Cerrado associated with the supply chain.”

Representatives from many of the other environmental groups that signed onto the Cerrado Manifesto praised the companies for publicly stating their support for the Manifesto and its goals.

“The Cerrado feeds billions of people from Brasilia to Beijing, and to continue doing so, it needs intact habitats, rich biodiversity, fertile soil, fresh water, and a stable climate,” Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil, said in a statement. “We applaud companies endorsing the Cerrado Manifesto because they’re sending a clear message to the market that we can meet tomorrow’s demand on the cropland and pastureland we already have; in fact, we can’t afford not to.”

“This commitment by corporate actors is very welcome. It helps us move towards the commitment to eliminate deforestation from beef and soy supply chains many companies made in the 2014 NY Declaration on Forests and Climate,” David Cleary, director of global agriculture at The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “The Cerrado is a vital area, for the world’s agricultural economy as well as for the environment. It is really important we get development there right by steering crop expansion onto the large areas of land already cleared.”

Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based NGO Mighty Earth, called on major agribusiness firms to join the 23 companies in their support of the objectives of the Cerrado Manifesto.

“These companies have recognized that with 500 million acres of heavily degraded land available across the continent, expanding agriculture does not require destruction of native ecosystems,” Hurowitz said in a statement.

“Now, it is up to the agribusinesses that dominate the global soy trade to act on this strong call from their customers. In particular, Cargill and Bunge have been most responsible for deforestation across the continent. We hope they will respond to their customers’ demand for environmentally responsible raw materials, and extend their own success in fighting deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to the rest of Latin America.”

Cattle ranching is one of the main drivers of destruction in the Brazilian Cerrado. Photo Credit: Alex Costa via Mighty Earth.

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001