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‘Greenlash’ and reactionary stakeholders in environmental governance: An analysis of soy farmers against zero deforestation in Brazil

This study analyzes the resistance of Brazilian soy farmers to zero deforestation policies, highlighting their ideological opposition, reliance on conspiracy theories, and distrust of foreign and governmental regulations, which collectively manifest as ‘greenlashing’ against environmental governance.

Mairon G. Bastos Lima / Published on 19 June 2024

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Barbosa de Andrade Aragão, R., Bastos Lima, M. G., Burns, G. L., Ross, H., & Biggs, D. (2024). ‘Greenlash’ and reactionary stakeholders in environmental governance: An analysis of soy farmers against zero deforestation in Brazil. Forest Policy and Economics, 166, 103267.

Key messages

  • Soy farmers' resistance to zero deforestation in Brazil is a form of greenlashing.

  • Ideological resistance to environmental regulation underpins such reactionism.

  • Farmer positions often draw from conspiracy theories and fake scientific controversies.

  • Addressing misinformation and reactionary stakeholders' underlying values is key.

The rapid disappearance of tropical forests has led to increased adoption of sustainability commitments. However, implementing zero-deforestation commitments faces numerous challenges, including resistance from those who benefit from the current practices in agricultural commodity-exporting countries, such as large-scale farmers. This study focuses on industrial soy farmers in Tocantins, a Brazilian state in the Cerrado ecoregion with high soy-driven deforestation rates. Drawing from a review of the land-use change literature in Brazil and background interviews with soy farmers in Tocantins, the authors ran a focus group with them to appraise three scenarios of increased restrictions on agricultural land-use expansion. They are:

(1) access to a productivity-increasing technology conditioned to refraining from opening new farms in areas with native vegetation;

(2) a hardened European policy limiting imports to conversion-free soy regardless of the ecosystem; and

(3) a strengthening of Brazil’s environmental policy, increasing the amount of land farmers are to set aside for conservation.

Their findings show Brazilian soy farmers are highly skeptical of environmental regulations and suspicious of foreign actors. While rallying for greater autonomy, they rejected attempts to rein in their (agri)business-as-usual practices and dismissed such policy efforts as ultimately driven by hidden agendas – showing a strong inclination to resort to conspiracy theories, understood as alternative explanations that attribute events to scheming by powerful actors. A frontier mindset, underscored by libertarian values, coupled with distrust in state institutions or in the motives of foreign regulators thus create an obstructive, reactionary stance in the face of zero-deforestation efforts in Brazil.

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SEI author

Mairon G. Bastos Lima
Mairon G. Bastos Lima

Senior Research Fellow

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