Forested biodiverse areas of Brazil continue being cleared to raise cattle and grow crops like soybean.
In 2006 a number of companies agreed not to buy soybean grown in Brazil on land cleared for agriculture by cutting down forests. In the subsequent decade, however, deforestation in the Amazon rainforests decreased only by 1.6% with protected forests covering a mere 2,300 square kilometers.
That is barely the size of Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, vast swathes of forest were lost to clearing during the same period, notes an international team of scientists from the University of Cambridge, Boston University, ETH Zurich and New York University in a new study.
Worse: these zero-deforestation commitments have not been adopted effectively in Brazil’s tropical savannah called the Cerrado, leaving more than half of soy-suitable forests and their rich biodiversity without protection, the researchers say.
A moratorium on soy was the first voluntary zero-deforestation commitment in the tropics and companies that signed it agreed not to buy soybeans produced on land obtain through deforestation after 2006. By last year at least 94 food companies adopted zero-deforestation commitments by pledging to eliminate crops produced through deforestation from their supply chains.
However, these commitments have been badly implemented while many small and medium-sized food companies have yet to make any commitments in the first place, the scientists say. In addition, while the commitment was implemented in the Brazilian Amazon, most Brazilian soy is produced in the Cerrado, which is similarly rich in biodiversity.
The result is that forested biodiverse areas of Brazil continue being cleared to raise cattle and grow crops like soybean. With global demand for soy surging, an estimated 4,800 square kilometers of rainforest is cleared each year just to grow this one crop for food and aminal feed.
Soybean also accounts for around 27% of global vegetable oil production and is a key part of many vegetarian and vegan diets, the scientists observe.
“Zero-deforestation pledges are a great first step, but they need to be implemented to have an effect on forests and right now it’s mainly the bigger companies that have the resources to do this,” says Rachael Garrett, a professor of conservation and development at the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.
“If soybean traders actually implemented their global commitments for zero-deforestation production, current levels of forest clearance in Brazil could be reduced by around 40%,” Garrett stresses.
The researchers say their findings indicate that efforts by the private sector are not enough to halt deforestation and the government must also play a vital role in conservation.
“Supply chain governance should not be a substitute for state-led forest policies, which are critical to enable zero deforestation monitoring and enforcement, have better potential to cover different crops, land users, and regions,” Garrett says.