Soy and beef production have played significant roles in the exploitation of the Amazonian rainforest, but the rollout of regulations to protect these precious natural resources have had unexpected consequences, driving these activities into regions that have largely been left untouched, such as Brazil’s Cerrado, a vast tropical savanna ecoregion of 2 million square kilometers.
The pressing situation was a major topic of discussion at an event hosted by The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit and Unilever on Wednesday morning in London, during which the Prince of Wales called for greater actions to be undertaken to protect the Cerrado and other threatened areas around the globe.
“An increasing concern is the extent to which success in reducing agricultural expansion into forests comes at the expense of the destruction of other wonderful ecosystems such as the Cerrado, the Chaco and the world’s remaining savannas,” he said. “All of [these landscapes] are so vital for the services they provide and the biodiversity they sustain.”
Spanning more than a quarter of Brazil’s land area, the Cerrado is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, as well as millions of people, including diverse indigenous communities. In 2015, the ecoregion yielded 45 million metric tons of soy and 74 million cattle. And now it’s being cleared faster than the Amazon. Half of the Cerrado’s natural vegetation has already been lost and an additional 15 million hectares are projected to be cleared in coming decades. Rapid and extensive land-use change has consequences not only for wildlife residing in the Cerrado, but for climate change as well. Clearing in the Cerrado is responsible for approximately 250 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, the equivalent to the annual emissions of 53 million cars.
However, research conducted by scientists at the Gibbs Land Use and Environment Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has revealed that farmers and ranchers in the Cerrado can meet future demand for beef and soy without clearing any more land.
“Our research indicates that there is enough cleared and suitable land to triple soy area in the Cerrado," said Lisa Rausch, researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Most of this cleared and suitable land is currently being used as pasture, though it is also nearly all in very close proximity to existing soy silos and could be converted to agriculture, especially as the ranching sector undergoes intensification.”
Legal protections for the biome are weak, making progress in the private sector imperative. To help prevent further destruction to the Cerrado, 23 leading food companies committed to support and deliver on the objectives defined in the Cerrado Manifesto, a call to action for the elimination of deforestation and conversion of native vegetation in the Cerrado.
The Manifesto calls on companies that purchase soy and meat from the Cerrado and investors working in these sectors to act immediately to protect the biome. To do so, they are required to adopt effective policies and commitments to eliminate conversion of native vegetation and dissociate their production chains from recently deforested areas. Additionally, the Manifesto requests that the private sector develop incentives and financial instruments to compensate producers that preserve areas of native vegetation.
“Supply chain solutions reverberate across the entire planet, protecting America’s wildlife and all wildlife across the globe,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “By working with companies to improve industry practices, we are moving toward decoupling agricultural production and habitat conversion, guaranteeing that future demand can be met without further harm to vital, biodiverse ecosystems like the Cerrado.”
Signatories include Carrefour, Colgate-Palmolive, Co-operative Group Ltd, IKEA Food Services AB, Sainsbury's, Kellogg Company, Lidl UK GmbH, L’Oréal SA, Mars Inc., McDonald’s Corporation, Marks and Spencer Group Plc, Nestlé S.A., Tesco Stores Plc., Unilever, Waitrose Ltd and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
“The Cerrado feeds billions of people from Brasilia to Beijing,” said Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil, “and to continue doing so, it needs intact habitats, rich biodiversity, fertile soil, fresh water, and a stable climate. We applaud companies endorsing the Cerrado Manifesto because they’re sending a clear message to the market that we can meet tomorrow’s demand on the cropland and pastureland we already have; in fact, we can’t afford not to.”
“While the Cerrado merits the attention given in today’s statement, deforestation caused by soy expansion is not limited to this biome. Across South America, there are important biomes being destroyed for soy and cattle production that have not received any attention, namely the Gran Chaco, the Atlantic Forest and the Chiquitano in countries like Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia,” said Glenn Hurowitz of Mighty Earth. “There is urgent need for a comprehensive solution that covers all of Latin America. Rapid and extensive deforestation for soy production is currently happening across the entire region and Mighty Earth’s report from earlier this year shows that there is no need to confine an initiative such as this to solely the Cerrado. In fact, we won’t see true benefits from a joint policy such as this unless it includes the entire region and all of the key stakeholders.”