LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Brazilian moratorium on trading soybeans from newly deforested areas in the Amazon has been renewed for a final year, but green groups are concerned it could be replaced by a less stringent agreement as deforestation is back on the rise.
The moratorium - first announced in 2006 by ABIOVE, Brazil's association for the vegetable oil industry, and ANEC, the national association of cereals exporters - also covers crops grown by farmers using indentured or forced labourers.
Major international companies that use soybeans in their products are part of a Soya Working Group set up to implement the moratorium, including McDonald's, Carrefour, Nestle, Tesco, Ahold, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Asda. They had called for the ban to continue beyond the end of January 2014 when it had been due to expire, according to Greenpeace International.
"By agreeing to extend the soya moratorium, traders are responding to their customers’ demands for Brazilian soya without deforestation, as well as listening to the Brazilian government and civil society," said Paulo Adario, senior forest advisor for Greenpeace. "Although they have committed to keep the upcoming soya harvest free from Amazon deforestation, the challenges ahead remain enormous as long-term protection is still to be secured."
The moratorium has helped reduce deforestation in the Amazon, Greenpeace said. Only 4 percent of the 700,000 hectares of land cleared in Brazil's 62 main soya-producing municipalities since 2006 were planted with soya in the 2012-13 season, according to the Soya Working Group.
But there are fears that amendments to Brazil's Forest Code in 2012 may be spurring an uptick in deforestation. Government figures released in November showed a 28 percent rise in deforestation for the 12 months through July 2013, compared with a year earlier, confirming a feared reversal in what had been steady progress over the past decade against destruction of the world's largest rainforest.
Changes to the country's forestry laws have created uncertainty among landowners regarding how much woodland they must preserve, and high prices for agricultural commodities have encouraged farmers to cut down trees to make way for crops, while loggers and squatters are rushing to exploit land around big infrastructure projects.
“Deforestation is on the rise again and new soya export infrastructure is in the pipeline at the heart of the Amazon, so the discussions ahead are critical," said Adario, referring to negotiations on a new mechanism to replace the current moratorium.
"Only the talks - and the actual steps taken - over the next year will define how seriously the soya traders take their industry and clients. A new agreement must be even more robust than the current moratorium,” Adario added.
Central to how any new soy agreement will operate is the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR), a registration system for rural properties that is still being developed, Greenpeace said. It will be essential for strengthening land governance in the Amazon and monitoring those responsible for deforestation, the green group noted.
High yields in Mato Grosso, Brazil's top soya growing state, are expected to bring a record harvest for the country in the 2013/14 crop year, amid forecasts that Brazil will overtake the United States to become the world's top soya producer.