Skip navigation
Two agricultural harvester machines harvesting soybeans in a vast field under a dramatic sky with large clouds. Dust clouds are visible behind the machines, indicating active harvesting.

Tracking soy to halt deforestation

Start reading

Tracking soy to halt deforestation

Consumer groups and campaigners take up insights from the Trase initiative to spur businesses to ensure their supply chains are deforestation free.

Published on 22 May 2024

Toby Gardner, Trase Director, discusses the critical role of data and analysis in reducing deforestation and the conversion of native ecosystems for commodities like soy.

Deforestation related to soy production – mostly for animal feed – has recently surged to record levels in Brazil’s Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savannah ecosystem. Data from the Trase initiative have provided stark visualizations of these changes over the past seven years.

Last year, Trase’s data monitoring and analysis allowed the initiative and its partners to provide insights and recommendations to soy-buying companies that may be linked to these impacts. It also provided civil society organizations with a platform for action and targeted campaigns, and regulators with the means to improve risk benchmarking and support assessment of compliance with due diligence requirements.

Mapping commodity supply chains for nearly a decade

Over its near decade of work, some of the most in-depth work by the Trase team has been to link soy supply chains and the expansion of soy to deforestation in Brazil. While the level of deforestation linked to soy has decreased in the Amazon, pressure continues to mount on the Cerrado for conversion of wild lands to agriculture, particularly soy. The researchers have found ways to highlight regions where companies and import markets sourcing soy from Brazil are most at risk of being linked to deforestation (see graphic).

Trase’s work on the Brazilian soy sector made a clear contribution on both of its main goals: driving ambition and accelerating the implementation of measures to tackle deforestation linked to trade in commodities. One part of this work requires enabling market leaders to deliver on regulatory and corporate sustainability goals, and the other is strengthening the accountability of companies.

Geospatial data on deforestation from soy expansion in Brazil produced by Trase. Trase’s data monitoring and analysis helps businesses, campaigners and regulators to better address the risk of deforestation in soy supply chains.

Graphic: Trase Supply Chains.

Enabling private sector leadership

In 2023, Trase data helped deliver on the ambition of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Forest Positive Coalition, which works directly with member corporations. As a science and data partner with Proforest, a non-profit organization that works with companies and supply chains, Trase contributed important methodological insights for how the CGF’s Forest Positive Coalition companies, including major supply and rank companies Nestlé, Mars and Mondelez, can target risk in their sourcing areas.

The work contributed to updated guidance for the CGF Forest Positive Coalition Soy Roadmap, which has become the main ambitious private sector initiative for tackling deforestation in the soy supply chain. The roadmap includes the use by CGF members of methods and data developed by Trase and Proforest. The guidance provided by this roadmap feeds, in turn, into the key performance indicator (KPI) reporting of the members.

Strengthening accountability

Data from the Trase initiative enable access, which makes them accessible for people around the world to use, providing a science-based platform to turn data to action. Mighty Earth, an environmental NGO, is leading a global campaign against deforestation, drew heavily on Trase data and maps to make the case in their advocacy campaigns. According to the US-based agricultural company’s links to deforestation in the Cerrado. Alex Armstrong, Mighty Earth’s Vice President of Programs, said: “Trase provides unique, reliable data that informs our global work to stop deforestation, protect nature, and fight climate change.”

A number of European supermarkets have since included investigations into Bunge based on the findings of the report, as reported last year by industry newsletter Feed Navigator.

Effective due diligence regulations

As regulations on deforestation-free supply chains start to kick in, soy becomes a component of voluntary commitments, and a space is opening for claims of non-compliance and litigation by civil society among others. Foremost among these regulations is the EU Regulation on Deforestation-free Products (EUDR), which came into force at the end of 2023 and focuses on soy and six other commodities. Working with Proforest, Trase’s research contributed to the Commission’s “risk benchmarking” for the EU regulation.

For risk benchmarking to be effective, due diligence and enforcement measures as well as per sector investments and incentives are needed to target higher risk and higher impact supply areas. And this is where Trase can add a lot of value by highlighting the places and supply chains which are most at risk. Their data and supply chain analysis can be used by companies to show they are acting to mitigate the risk of non-compliance, and by regulatory authorities to target efforts toward assessing company performance.

The value of open data

The Trase approach shows and demonstrates the critical role played by independent providers of open data, such as Trase whose information seen as credible by investors, corporations and campaigners. This is truer now with EUDR in the spotlight. Such data is seen by others in the system as highly useful for oversight. In 2023 Trase also helped bring much-needed supply chain transparency to key global agricultural commodities from the Cerrado in Brazil. Their work continues to help organizations act ahead of forest-risk regulations, and is truly a vital step in building deforestation and tackling the climate and biodiversity crises.

This change story is part of broader efforts detailed in our annual report 2023, highlighting SEI’s strategic commitments and impact over the past year.

Design and development by Soapbox.