Brazil Resists Pressure and Extends Soy Moratorium in the Amazon

Soy plantation in the Brazilian Amazon International environmental group Greenpeace released a note welcoming the Brazilian government decision to extend by one year the Amazon soy moratorium, announced this Tuesday, June 17, in Brazilian capital BrasÀ­lia. The announcement was made by Brazil's Soy Traders Association (Abiove), together with Brazil's new Environment Minister, Carlos Minc, Greenpeace and other NGOs.

The moratorium, which bans the purchase of soy from newly deforested areas in the Amazon, or from farmers using indentured or slave laborers, was the direct result of a Greenpeace investigation documented in the 2006 report "Eating up the Amazon" and our subsequent campaign. The moratorium will now run until July 2009.

Several soy producers had begun using rising agricultural commodity prices and global demand for grain to pressure Abiove and traders not to extend the moratorium. A handful even used the global food crisis to justify further Amazon deforestation.

"The decision to extend the moratorium against the backdrop of rising commodity prices and the food crises shows that government and industry now understand that it is possible to protect the forest, combat climate change and still ensure food production," said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon campaign director in Brazil.

Greenpeace, together with other NGOs, will continue to help Abiove to bring effective governance to the soy industry in the Amazon. Greenpeace warns however, that a one year extension may not be long enough to build the tools necessary to ensure that soy production does not result in further deforestation.

An alliance of soy consumer companies, led by McDonalds, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour also welcomed the extension decision and, in a joint statement, renewed its commitment to remaining actively engaged. In Brazil, the companies Wal-Mart, Sadia and Yoki also supported the statement.

The direct involvement of the Brazilian government, experts say, is key to providing the framework essential for farmers to comply with the law.

"The moratorium is a successful initiative by civil society and the soy industry. The Federal Government is entering the process now and is committed to register and license all rural properties in the Amazon biome," Minc told reporters. "Inspired by the success of this initiative, the Brazilian government is negotiating similar approaches with the timber and beef industries."

"We are delighted to see the new environment minister take an active role in ensuring the continuation of the moratorium. Such high level support helps Abiove and the traders convince farmers to support the initiative. His support also serves as a warning to those who continue to destroy forests that their soy will be rejected by the market," concluded Adario.

Tropical forest destruction is responsible for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector. 75 percent of Brazil's emissions come from forest destruction, making it the world's fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The Whole Greenpeace Statement:

The announcement from soy traders in Brazil to extend a moratorium on soy expansion, provides hope for the Amazon rainforest. We're not out of the woods yet, but this decision and the history of campaigning which got us here should be celebrated and built upon to protect all ancient forests for the future.

We've received good news about the ongoing campaign to protect the Amazon rainforest: the landmark two year old "soy moratorium," brought about after we demonstrated that the rainforest was being cleared to make way for soy farming, has been extended for another year.

The Amazon Campaign

Rising international demand for soy had led many farmers to drive deforestation to make way for soy cultivation. Back in 2006, we published "Eating up the Amazon," a report on our investigation into the links between soy in the supply chains of leading international food companies and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

At the same time, we dressed up as chickens and heckled McDonald's, one of the companies using soy from the Amazon for Chicken McNuggets back then. The costumes were sweaty but lucky for us (and the planet), McDonalds quickly reacted and agreed to join us and lead a call for a change.

Responding to this pressure, the major soy traders operating in Brazil announced a two year moratorium which came into effect in July 2006, stopping for the time being the trade in soy grown on newly deforested land.

Although recent figures show an increase in Amazon deforestation rates, after three years of decline, the first field evaluation show that the soy harvested this year in the Brazilian Amazon has not come from newly deforested areas. In other words, the moratorium is doing its job and halting soy related forest destruction, despite the pressure from rising soy prices.

Companies Doing the Right Thing

But two years have not been long enough to establish permanent solutions to halt deforestation related to soy farming and without an extension much of the hard work done to date would have been lost. Credit for the extension goes primarily to two of our, umm, favorite allies – big business and government.

The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove), which represents soy traders, has recently been under huge pressure from producers who wanted to weaken the moratorium by allowing soy plantations in areas not permitted under the existing agreement.

Despite the pressure, in a press conference held in Brasí­lia, Abiove has just confirmed that it will back the moratorium for another year. "Abiove's decision shows that it is possible for a leading agribusiness company to ensure food production without destroying forests," said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon campaign coordinator.

Brazilian Environment Minister, Carlos Minc, told reporters: "The moratorium is a successful initiative by civil society and the soy industry. The Federal Government is entering the process now and is committed to register and license all rural properties in the Amazon biome. Inspired by the success of this initiative, the Brazilian government is negotiating similar approaches with the timber and beef industries."

"We are delighted to see the new environment minister take an active role in ensuring the continuation of the moratorium. Such high level support helps Abiove and the traders convince farmers to support the initiative. His support also serves as a warning to those who continue to destroy forests that their soy will be rejected by the market," concluded Adario.

Not only has Minc come out in support of the extension, he has committed the government to speeding up efforts for the registration and mapping of rural properties in the Amazon. This is essential if we are to ensure compliance by all parties to the laws dictating which land may be used for farming and which is off limits for deforestation.

Much More Still to Be Done

This announcement means we're one step closer to achieving that. Further measures include curbing illegal occupation of public lands, harsh penalties for illegal deforestation, driving development to areas away from the rainforest and increasing support for sustainable methods of production.

Not only is the forest a natural wonder but it is home to millions of indigenous peoples. In addition, recent science has proven that tropical forest destruction is responsible for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector.

Stopping deforestation of the Amazon would bring us much closer to keeping global temperature rise at below 2°C, which most scientists believe is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

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