The Cerrado stretches across nearly a quarter of Brazil, and while this vast expanse of wooded grassland is arguably as environmentally significant as the Amazon, it has garnered far less attention than its lusher neighboring biome until recently.
This year, six leading commodities traders — Cargill, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus Company, Archer Daniels Midland, Glencore Agriculture and COFCO International — announced a groundbreaking new agreement to monitor and publish data about soy supply chains from 25 Cerrado municipalities that face the highest risk of conversion from native vegetation to soy.
The companies are all members of the Soft Commodities Forum, a World Business Council for Sustainable Development group that receives support through our Forests and Agriculture Markets Initiative. Through the initiative, we aim to help drive the food sector away from production practices that degrade natural ecosystems
“The fact that leading global soy traders, which collectively wield enormous market influence, have, for the first time, joined together to systematically monitor and disclose their supply chain practices and thereby address a key driver of deforestation in the Cerrado is encouraging,” notes Forests and Agriculture Markets Initiative Program Officer Leonardo Fleck.
The news of this collaboration follows an announcement from Jun Lyu, CEO of the state-owned Chinese firm COFCO International, at the Davos World Economic Forum in January of his support for extending collective sustainability efforts that reduced deforestation driven by soy produced in the Amazon to other ecosystems in South America, including the Cerrado. Because China is the single largest buyer in the world of Brazilian soybeans, COFCO’s participation in the initiative is particularly encouraging.
Soybean production is the second leading driver of tropical deforestation after beef.
Global soybean production has increased more than fifteen-fold since the 1950s, and about one-third of the global supply come from Brazil. Most of these beans are broken down for their oil, a relatively inexpensive, mild-flavored ingredient that has become common in packaged foods.
Along with beef production, the demand for soy has led to mass deforestation of Brazil’s Cerrado.
About half of the Cerrado’s former 200 million hectares have disappeared under the plow, leading to significant biodiversity, water and climate impacts. For example, annual clearing for food production in the Cerrado is responsible for an estimated 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions of 53 million cars. And, because the Cerrado is part of the watershed for the mighty San Francisco and Paraguay River systems, clearing these lands for crop and livestock production can decrease water flows, reduce rainfall, prolong droughts and contribute to more frequent fires.
Not only does deforestation of the Cerrado have devastating consequences environmentally, researchers say that it’s not even necessary. Already, more than 150,000 square miles of Brazilian land have been cleared and can be used to produce soy.
As the global population expands to an anticipated nine billion by 2050, the Soft Commodities Forum is working to advance collective action around sustainability challenges related to the production of what are known as soft commodities, such as grains and oilseeds.
“With growing global demand for meats and feedstocks, it’s increasingly incumbent upon food producers to respond to sustainability challenges,” explains Fleck. “And that’s why the forum company commitments are so crucial and so welcome. It will take collective action by entire sectors to address such wicked problems”
Starting with 2018 harvest data, Soy Commodities Forum member companies will report individually on how much soy they’re each sourcing from the Cerrado. Together, they’ll monitor municipalities with the highest risk of conversion of native vegetation to soy. Their first findings will be issued in June 2019.
“Hard news from the Soft Commodities Forum,” Mongabay. “So, what exactly has the Soft Commodities Forum done and why is it important? They have zeroed in on the Brazilian Cerrado, arguably the most interesting place in the world right now for those interested in deforestation. It is a complicated, mixed ecosystem more typical of the places where most of the world’s tropical commodities come from than a classic forest biome like the Amazon. One of the longstanding criticisms of deforestation commitments is that they just displace conversion pressure from forests to other ecosystems. That’s the first reason why this announcement from the Soft Commodities Forum is important: it blows that criticism out of the water by making it clear that the soy traders are focusing on all native vegetation, not just forests…Though what the SCF will help shape is not a moratorium, it will send a strong signal from the traders to producers to channel expansion of soy cultivation to land that’s already been cleared. That’s a big step forwards in a biome that accounts for well over half of all Brazilian soy production.”