RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – A moratorium on the purchase of soybeans from newly deforested areas of the Amazon appears to be keeping grain fields from adding to rain forest destruction, environmentalists and an industry group said Monday.
No new soybean plantations were detected in any of the 193 areas that registered deforestation of 250 acres or more between August 2006 and August 2007, according to Greenpeace and the Brazilian Vegetable Oils Industry Association.
U.S. commodities giants Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd., as well as France's Dreyfus and Brazilian-owned Amaggi, are participating. Together, the companies account for the majority of the soy trade in Brazil, the world's No. 2 producer of soybeans, after the United States.
"Without a doubt the results show that soy moratorium is being respected and that is good news," said Paulo Adario, coordinator of Greenpeace's Amazon campaign. "However, the high prices of soy on the international market are increasing producers' appetites for more land, which creates an important challenge for the companies committed to the moratorium."
Rising demand from China is among the factors that have pushed up prices and pressure for more soybean production.
The survey released Monday was the first field evaluation since the companies agreed to the two-year moratorium in 2006. The ban came in response to protests against expanding soy plantations, which had become a major source of rain forest destruction. There is no word on whether the moratorium will be renewed.
Adario said he is still concerned because the report shows much of deforestation has occurred in areas next to existing soybean plantations, suggesting that the grain fields could move into those areas to meet growing international demand.
Traditionally, jungle land in the Amazon has been cut for pasture and later sold to soybean growers after it has been overgrazed, usually in two to three years.
After declining over three years, deforestation in the Amazon is once again on the upswing. As much as 2,700 square miles of Brazil's rain forest was cleared between August and December 2007, according to the environment ministry.
That would put Brazil on course to lose 5,790 square miles for the year ending in August — a 34 percent increase from the previous 12-month period.