- A new report from NGO Amazon Conservation analyzed satellite data from the University of Maryland and the World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch platform. It found that deforestation is rising in the southeastern state of Mato Grosso, due in large part to industrial soy production.
- The report said there has been at least 42,000 hectares (over 100,000 acres) of “direct” soy deforestation in Mato Grosso since 2020, meaning primary forest in those areas was cleared with fire for the sole purpose of cultivating soy.
- The findings suggest that a moratorium on soy grown on land that was deforested after 2008 needs to be improved to better track who is clearing the forest and where.
Deforestation is rising in a vulnerable part of the Amazon rainforest due to increased activity by industrial agricultural producers, who are burning down large pieces of territory to create new plantations.
A new report from NGO Amazon Conservation analyzed satellite data in the southeastern state of Mato Grosso, discovering surprising amounts of deforestation connected to fires started by what appears to be industrial soy producers.
“It’s rare to see these areas being recently deforested to be cultivated for soy,” Raquel Carvalho de Lima of Brazil’s Life Center Institute (ICV) told Mongabay, “but we’re seeing lots of deforestation going on.”
The report said there have been at least 42,000 hectares (over 100,000 acres) of “direct” soy deforestation in Mato Grosso since 2020, meaning primary forest in those areas was cleared with fire for the sole purpose of cultivating soy.
The state has been one of the hardest-hit by deforestation in Brazil, with 1.7 million hectares (over 4.2 million acres) being illegally cleared between 2012 and 2017, according to ICV. It’s also home to the Xingu Indigenous territory, where several Indigenous communities and protected areas have also been impacted by deforestation.
Over the last 15 years, soy has been thought to have a limited impact on this phenomenon thanks to a moratorium that prohibits the purchase of soy from land that was cleared after 2008. Since the moratorium’s implementation in 2006, around 98% of soy moving through the supply chain has complied, according to WWF.
However, the report suggests that soy may be contributing to recent deforestation more than previously thought, and that some parts of the Amazon could face new challenges in years to come.
“It may be a good time to reexamine the soy moratorium given that researchers have documented the direct soy deforestation of over 70,000 hectares over just the past three to four years,” said Matt Finer, senior research specialist at Amazon Conservation.
This year, satellite readings detected 84 major fires that were started to prepare the land for soy, the report said. Amazon Conservation concluded, based on analysis of high-resolution satellite images, that the deforestation and fires were for soy judging by their location, size, orderliness and linear shape.
While it’s possible that it could be something else, other activities in the area, most notably cattle ranching, are often much messier and less linear in satellite images, making it easy to distinguish between the two, Finer said.
“We believe that the combination of factors, plus consultation with local partners, strongly indicates these are for soy,” Finer said. “It’s an area with a high concentration of soy, and the vast majority of the [deforestation] we found was very close to existing soy plantations. If it looks like soy and it’s next to soy, it’s probably soy.”
The report suggested that the rise in deforestation in Mato Grosso may be connected to the start of the planting season. It’s also possible that the rising price of soy has pushed more producers to expand their operations. Soy bean prices have risen dramatically since 2020 and hit record figures ahead of the planting season this year.
Experts say that the soy moratorium needs to be changed to include a more rigorous analysis of soy plantations and the practices of property owners.
“Mato Grosso needs a more comprehensive soybeans sector agreement,” said Carvalho de Lima, “one that includes the Cerrado biome, monitors entire farms, includes other grain crops and increases the transparency of audit processes and results.”
Banner image: Farmers work in soy fields in Rondonópolis, Mato Grosso. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
Editor’s Note: The headline has been changed to better reflect the location of the deforestation.
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