Soy & Rainforest Destruction in South America
by Rainforest Action Network
The world's largest rainforests are under siege. Tropical rainforests are being cleared at the rate
of 14,000 acres per day. Roughly 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest and 80 percent of the
surrounding Cerrado savannah have already been destroyed. And it's getting worse, with
deforestation rates in the Amazon reaching an all time high in 2007.
What's going on?
Soy has become a leading driver of deforestation in the Amazon. RAN's Brazilian allies
report that more than 50,000 acres in the Amazon have been destroyed solely for soy
since 2002. If current trends continue, more
than 40 million acres of the delicate Cerrado savannah and 15 million acres of the
Amazon will be cleared for soy production by 2020.
What's causing the demand for soy to increase?
Ninety percent of soy crops go to meet worldwide demand for animal feed. Increasingly,
however, soy is being grown to produce fuels like biodiesel. Recent government
mandates to increase the use of biodiesel in the U.S., the E.U., and several countries in
South America, are stimulating demand for soy production.
While demand for soy is rising around the world, only South America has room to
significantly expand soy production – which is done at the expense of forests and other
sensitive ecosystems. In the next few years, South America is expected to expand
production to meet more than 70 percent of increased world demand for soy.
Who are the leading players?
American agribusinesses are leading the soy explosion. In 2004, Archer Daniels Midland
(ADM) and Bunge, Ltd., together accounted for 60 percent of all soy funding in
Brazil, providing seeds and processing facilities. More than half of soy storage, shipping
and processing facilities in Brazil belong to ADM, and Bunge.
What are the consequences for the environment?
The expansion of soy plantations means that rainforests are being completely slashed
and burned, eliminating critical habitats for many plant and animal species. Brazil now
ranks fourth in the world for the number of endangered species.
In addition to widespread deforestation, the expansion of industrial agriculture into
rainforests is accompanied by widespread use of toxic chemicals like Roundup and
Paraquat that spread through waterways, increasing levels of nitrogen and phosphorous
in river basins. These toxins sicken those who drink the water as well as animals and
plants living in the rivers.
What are the consequences for people?
To accommodate the large-scale commercial plantations needed to produce soy and
other crops, ADM and Bunge force Indigenous people and small farmers off their
land and drive workers into poverty. These companies have been repeatedly found to
use slave labor, despite their public commitment to an anti-slavery pact.
Food shortages are occurring around the world as the finite supply of food crops is
splintered to meet growing demand for agrofuels, causing severe price fluctuations with
which poorer communities are unable to keep pace.
Growth in the Planted Area of Soy: 1995 – 2003. Source: Brazilian Agricultural Ministry - CONAB