Soy moratorium under review

30.06.2021 • News

A study published in Nature Food in December 2020 showed that the soy moratorium in the Amazon was instrumental in reducing deforestation in the region between 2004 and 2012. Originally titled Brazil's Amazon Soy Moratorium reduced deforestation, the paper was produced by researchers Robert Heilmayr, Lisa L. Rausch, Jacob Munger and Holly K. Gibbs.

Nature Food is a monthly, online science journal that publishes original research, reviews, commentary and opinions on the topic of food and provides researchers and policymakers with a variety of evidence and expert narratives on how to optimise and protect food systems for the future.

According to the study, between 2004 and 2012, several policies contributed to the 84% reduction in the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon, among which the most prominent was the Soybean Moratorium in the Amazon. The authors believe that the moratorium is behind the wide use of similar zero deforestation commitments but its impact is little understood due to its overlap with other conservation policies.

In the article's analysis, there are indicators that the public monitoring of deforestation and the registration of properties were essential prerequisites for the success of the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon. Supply chain interventions that attempt to circumvent governments unwilling or unable to provide a strong enabling environment may have difficulty replicating the impact of the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon.

The scale and pace of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in the early 2000s caused widespread concern about the loss of biodiversity, the endangerment of indigenous livelihoods and the local and global climate impacts. In response, policymakers and other stakeholders adopted a wide range of policies to curb deforestation. Government interventions have included, among other policies, the designation of indigenous land and new conservation areas, heavy penalties and the enforcement of deforestation restrictions and sanctions targeting local jurisdictions with the highest deforestation rates.

At the same time, private stakeholders have pioneered several interventions to remove deforestation from commodity supply chains, including the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon and agreements in the livestock sector.

These public and private policies have led to an 84% drop in the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon between 2004 and 2012 (falling from 27,800 km2 to 4,500 km2). Deforestation rates, however, have increased again and doubled between 2012 and 2019 (reaching 9,800 km2). To sustain forest conservation in the Amazon and to replicate Brazil's success globally, the scientific community needs to provide a deeper understanding of the relative contributions and interactions between the policies that have led to Brazil's decline in deforestation and that was the purpose of the study.

According to the study, the Amazon Soy Moratorium has reduced deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which shows that private zero-deforestation agreements in agricultural supply chains can yield significant conservation benefits. The determining factors of the effectiveness of the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon provide several insights that are directly relevant to efforts to extend zero deforestation commitments to other landscapes and commodities.

First, the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon was adopted by traders who purchased 90% of the soy produced in the Amazon. Efforts to expand the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon to the Cerrado, where less than half of soybean exports are covered by specific zero deforestation commitments by companies, will face greater obstacles in achieving widespread reductions in deforestation.

Secondly, the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon is only one of the many policies that have collectively forced a dramatic decline in deforestation in the Amazon. Between 2003 and 2016, deforestation in the Amazon biome was cut back by 2.6% and the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon accounted for a quarter of this decline. However, even to achieve this rate, the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon depended on critical factors that complemented the public conservation policies.

Lastly, despite the success of the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon, debates over its continuity and recent policy changes in Brazil have highlighted the potentially tenuous nature of all forest conservation policies. According to the study, in 2019, members of the Bolsonaro government joined the association representing Brazilian soybean producers, Aprosoja, in criticising the moratorium as an unfair and undemocratic violation of Brazil's Forest Code put in place by multinational companies. Meanwhile, the government seeks to weaken the conservation requirements of the Forest Code. In the end, seemingly redundant public and private mandates may serve as an important buffer against policy inconsistencies that arise from changes in business or political cycles.

Read the full study here

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