New data released today by transparency initiative Trase shows that soy plantations continue to rapidly replace forests, savannah, grasslands and other ecosystems across Brazil, particularly in the Cerrado and the Pampas, posing grave threats to the climate and biodiversity.
Clearing carbon-rich natural vegetation contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2020, Brazil’s soy production on recently deforested and converted land released 103 million tonnes of CO₂ – 11% of the country’s total annual land-use change emissions.
Soy plantations have expanded most significantly onto native vegetation in the Cerrado. In 2020, they took over 264,000 ha of recently deforested and converted lands – an area almost twice the size of the city of São Paulo.
There is also active clearance of natural grasslands in the Pampas, one of Brazil’s most threatened biomes. This threat has been almost entirely overlooked in the past due to lack of data. In 2020, soy replaced 196,000 ha of recently converted Pampas.
In 2020, soy covered 76,400 ha of recently deforested land in the Amazon. Forest in the Amazon continued to be cleared for soy after 2008, despite the Soy Moratorium agreed by traders. In 2020, such lands represented 133,000 ha of soy production.
Exports from the three largest, established traders – Bunge, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland – continue to be linked to sourcing regions with the most deforestation and conversion. Following rapid expansion into trading Brazilian soy since 2017, Olam Group is now among the top five traders linked to soy conversion, together with Gavilon.
Voluntary zero-deforestation commitments from traders only covered about 50% of exports in 2020.
“It’s clear that voluntary action by companies isn’t going far enough, fast enough. For president-elect Lula to achieve the environmental ambitions he set out at COP27, the new administration needs to begin by creating a public, universal and fully transparent traceability system, encompassing all agricultural commodities.”
— Dr Tiago Reis, Trase’s Engagement Lead for South America
China has grown rapidly to become the largest destination market for Brazilian soy. In 2020, China’s imports were linked to 229,000 ha of soy deforestation, followed by Brazil’s own consumption at 102,000 ha. The EU’s soy deforestation exposure is smaller, at 29,800 ha in 2020.
The EU is finalising a regulation which requires companies to conduct due diligence of their supply chains and demonstrate their products are deforestation-free. If the law covers only a narrow range of ecosystems, as has been proposed, most of the Cerrado and the Pampas will fall outside its scope.
“Excluding the Cerrado and the Pampas would critically undermine the potential benefit of the new law, leaving some of Brazil’s most biodiverse natural areas vulnerable,” said Helen Bellfield, Trase Deputy Director at Global Canopy. “Worse, it may increase pressure on these areas, as the regulation would effectively declare them ‘fair game’ for sourcing.”
Trase data shows that soy deforestation and conversion is concentrated in a small number of areas, so focused action can have a significant impact. In 2020, just 13% (309 of 2,388) of soy-producing municipalities accounted for 95% of Brazil’s soy production on recently deforested or converted land. The remaining 87% of soy-producing municipalities have negligible levels of deforestation and conversion.
“A well-implemented, risk-based approach to due diligence could facilitate exports from low-risk areas to markets seeking deforestation and conversion-free supply, while targeting tougher measures at higher risk areas,” said Dr Reis. “By increasing transparency in their supply chains, responsible producers can credibly demonstrate to buyers and regulators that their supplies are low risk.”
“Trase is marking a major milestone in releasing these new supply chain, deforestation and emissions data for Brazilian soy. This release, and the vital transparency it brings, is the result of over two years of intensive research on one of the most important commodities and sectors linked to deforestation and conversion of native ecosystems across the tropics.”
— Toby Gardner, Director of Trase and SEI Senior Research Fellow
Notes for Editors
- From 7 December 2022, the data will be available on the Trase website (www.trase.earth). A launch webinar will take place at 10.00 (BRT) / 13.00 (GMT) / 14.00 (CET) with presentations by Dr Tiago Reis and Lisandro Inakake de Souza of Imaflora, followed by a panel discussion with Debora Dias of The Consumer Goods Forum, Laurent Javaudin of the EU Delegation to Brazil and Lucie Smith of the Soft Commodities Forum. Moderated by Isabel Garcia-Drigo of Imaflora, the webinar will be bilingual (English and Portuguese) with simultaneous interpretation. Registration here.
- Soy deforestation and conversion is calculated by looking at the area of soy harvested in a given year that was planted on areas deforested in the five preceding years. For example, soy deforestation and conversion in 2020 refers to areas of soy harvested in 2020 from lands that were converted between 2015 and 2019. More information on the methods for calculating this is available on request.
- Proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products.
- ‘EU urged to widen deforestation law’, published on Trase Insights, 7 June 2022.
Founded by Global Canopy and the Stockholm Environment Institute, Trase is a data-driven transparency initiative and global partnership that maps the international trade and financing of agricultural commodities, providing tools that enable companies, financial institutions and governments to address tropical deforestation.
Imaflora is a non-profit organisation in Brazil that seeks to influence the production chains for forest and agricultural products, to collaborate in the creation and implementation of public interest policies and, ultimately, to make a difference in the regions where it operates, creating models for land use and sustainable development that can be reproduced in different municipalities, regions and biomes of the country. Imaflora is Trase’s lead partner in Brazil.