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Cargill widens its deforestation-free goals, but critics say it’s not enough

  • Cargill has announced its Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina supply chains will be free of deforestation and land conversion by 2025.
  • The commitments also expand to all row crops in those countries, including soy, corn, wheat and cotton.
  • While conservation groups have welcomed the expanded commitment, they say it still leaves out countries like Bolivia, Paraguay and Colombia, where deforestation from the expanding agricultural frontier continues to increase.

Global food trader Cargill has announced new commitments to disentangle some of its most controversial agricultural products from deforestation in several South American countries. But some conservation groups say the commitments still might not be ambitious enough to meet global climate goals.

Cargill announced its supply chains for soy, corn, wheat and cotton from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina will be free of deforestation and land conversion by 2025. For some areas, that moves up the commitment dates by five years.

“At Cargill, we are actively shaping a future where critical ecosystems will be protected for generations to come,” Cargill chief sustainability officer Pilar Cruz said in a statement. “Accelerating our commitment is a testament to our resolve to make real, tangible progress against deforestation and land conversion, in line with our climate action plan, while also supporting the livelihoods of farmers and agricultural communities that are vital to feeding the world.”

Cargill monitors its supply chains with forest mapping data and information gathered from local suppliers. The goal is to purchase agricultural commodities from direct and indirect suppliers that haven’t been planted on land cleared of primary forests and other important biomes.

Agriculture is one of the top drivers of deforestation globally and there’s increasing pressure on the private sector to step up supply chain monitoring to combat climate change.

Previously, Cargill had committed to removing deforestation and land conversion across South America by 2030. Only specific biomes like the Amazon, Cerrado and Gran Chaco had an earlier target date of 2025. Now, the entirety of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have that earlier target date.

The commitments also expand to all row crops in those countries.

While deforestation has declined in the Brazilian Amazon this year, the country’s Cerrado savanna is experiencing near all-time highs, losing thousands of hectares a day to agriculture and cattle ranching. In Argentina’s Gran Chaco, around 95,000 hectares (nearly 235,000 acres) were destroyed by fire last year, much of it connected to industrial agriculture.

Deforestation from agriculture in the southern Amazon Rainforest. (Photo by Rhett A. Butler.)

Environmental advocacy group Mighty Earth called Cargill’s new commitments “an important but incomplete step for nature, climate and communities,” noting that there are still several policy gaps that could be a cause for concern.

While it’s good that the company has expanded its commitments to all of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, other countries in the region, like Bolivia, Paraguay and Colombia, continue to experience deforestation from the expanding agricultural frontier, the group said in a statement.

“There’s no reason why nature should get protection in only these three countries — and why it shouldn’t be protected immediately,” the statement said.

Cargill told Mongabay it has deforestation commitments for those other countries for 2030. “While change will take time, we will continue to work to do this in the shortest time possible,” a spokesperson said in an email.

Earlier this year, a Global Witness investigation found that Cargill had purchased soy from Bolivian suppliers who had cleared more than 20,000 hectares (about 50,000 acres) of the Chiquitano dry forest. Industrial agriculture is also a growing threat in neighboring Paraguay, according to WWF, as large-scale farms replace smaller ones.

The 2025 commitment target date, while better than 2030, still might allow producers to deforest for the next 18 months, Mighty Earth said. While Cargill will in theory be working to eradicate deforestation and land conversion over that time, there’s also nothing stopping it from continuing to work with suppliers who don’t meet those standards.

Mighty Earth said 2020 would be a better cutoff date. That would require Cargill to purchase commodities from producers working on land that was cleared before that year.

“We’re calling on Cargill … to agree to a cutoff date of 2020 to ensure this incomplete policy does not spark a ‘race to bulldoze’ in biomes such as the Grand Chaco and the Chiquitano ahead of 2025,” Mighty Earth’s statement said.

Banner image: Farming Equipment on a Cargill plantation. Photo courtesy of Cargill.

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