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BRAZIL: Soy Industry Joins Effort Against Amazon Deforestation

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 25 2006 (IPS) - The environmentalist movement, and especially international watchdog Greenpeace, are celebrating a new victory in Brazil: the big companies that process and export soy have decided not to buy soybeans from newly deforested areas in the Amazon jungle.

The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Producers (ABIOVE) and the National Grains Exporters’ Association (ANEC) announced in a joint communiqué Monday that their members will stop using soybeans from land that has been cleared to grow soy in the Amazon jungle.

The moratorium will last two years, during which time soy processors and exporters, along with the government, farmers and civil society groups, will design “new rules for operating in the Amazon ecosystem,” strategies to ensure that soy farmers comply with Brazil’s forestry laws, and an action plan to reduce the violence sparked by land disputes and achieve “governance” in the Amazon region

“This is a very important step towards curbing the advance of the agricultural frontier” in the Amazon, which will have “automatic repercussions on other production chains, like that of beef,” Adilson Vieira, coordinator of the Amazon Working Group, a network of 600 non-governmental organisations and community movements, told IPS.

The deforestation rate in the Amazon jungle will tend to continue to slow down in the next few years, and the government must take advantage of this opportunity to enforce “stricter mechanisms” to control other activities that threaten the jungle, like the continuous illegal encroachment on public land, and illegal logging, he said.

Vieira pointed out that the rate of deforestation fell by nearly 31 percent last year. The February 2005 murder of U.S.-born nun and activist Dorothy Stang and subsequent international outrage helped prompt the government to accelerate the adoption of prevention measures, like the establishment of enormous conservation areas.

Without the pressure of the expansion of soy plantations, the government of leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be able to focus its efforts on other fronts, and speed up implementation of a new law on management of public forests, which is aimed at fomenting a legal, sustainable lumber industry while curbing illegal logging.

The environmental movement as a whole should congratulate Greenpeace, which capitalised on pressure from the international consumer market to broker the new agreement with the soy industry, said Vieira.

The Greenpeace International campaign, which has included the occupation of ports and the boarding of ships, has argued that soy consumption, especially in Europe, has fuelled deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

Greenpeace’s April report “Eating Up the Amazon” described soy plantations as the greatest threat to the future of the Amazon jungle, due to the destruction of the forest and the expulsion of indigenous and other traditional communities from their land by soy companies and farmers who pollute the water with toxic agrochemicals and often use slave labour.

Three U.S.-based corporations – Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge and Cargill – control 60 percent of soy production in Brazil and more than three-quarters of Europe’s soy crushing industry, which supplies soy meal and oil to the animal feed market.

As a result of the pressure brought to bear by its report and protests, Greenpeace was able to forge an alliance with supermarket and fast food chains, like McDonald’s, which agreed to require that their suppliers certify that their products did not contribute to the destruction of the Amazon jungle.

Much of the soy production goes into producing chicken, for example, sold by supermarkets and fast food outlets.

In the face of the growing pressure, ADM, Bunge, Cargill and other export firms, like Dreyfus from France and Amaggi from Brazil, agreed to negotiate new practices consistent with preservation of the jungle.

The result was the two-year ban on buying soybeans from deforested Amazon land, which was agreed to by the entire industry, represented by ANEC – to which the corporations belong – and ABIOVE.

The two business associations not only committed themselves to helping enforce Brazilian law in order to preserve the forests, but also pledged to break off contracts with buyers who use slave labour.

“The part played by food companies selling products which have a direct link to Amazon deforestation for soya has been crucial in bringing the big soya traders to the negotiating table. Now the challenge is for the soya trade to deliver real on the ground results to protect the Amazon rainforest from destruction,” said Gerd Leipold, executive director of Greenpeace International.

Greenpeace Brazil Executive Director Frank Guggenheim said “We need to keep pushing for an agreement that will really protect the future of the rainforest and the Amazon people. Disputes over land and forest resources have not only destroyed large areas of the Amazon but also claimed thousands of lives. Soya traders must now help bring governance and environmental protection to the entire region.”

The soy boom has driven up land prices, fuelling illegal logging and sparking violent conflicts over land.

The coordinator of Greenpeace Brazil’s Amazon forest campaign, Paulo Adario, underscored the need to set up a working group encompassing a number of institutions, to monitor compliance with the moratorium, which he said would require maps of the areas that have already been deforested in order to identify any further clearing of forests for soy plantations.

According to environmentalists, more than one million hectares of rainforest have been cleared to make way for soy cultivation in the past few years.

A total of 18,900 square km of Amazon jungle were deforested between August 2004 and July 2005, 30.5 percent less than in the previous year.

The Amazon jungle has the greatest biodiversity in the world, and plays a key role in the regional climate.

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