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Researchers say more companies need to commit to zero deforestation in their supply chain to significantly reduce deforestation and protect diverse ecosystems.

Corporate pledges not to buy soy produced on land cleared after 2006 reduced deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by just 1.6% between 2006 and 2015.

This is equal to a protection zone of 2300 km2 in the Amazon rainforest: barely the size of Oxfordshire in the UK.

The findings, made by tracking traders’ soybean supplies back to their source, are published today in the journal Environmental Studies Letters. A team from the University of Cambridge, Boston University, ETH Zurich and New York University participated in the work.

The researchers also found that in the Cerrado, Brazil’s tropical savannah, zero-deforestation commitments have not been effectively implemented, leaving more than 50% of forests suitable for soybean cultivation and their biodiversity unprotected.

Brazil has the largest remaining rainforest on the planet, but it is being rapidly cleared for cattle ranching and the cultivation of crops, including soybeans. Demand for soybeans is growing worldwide, and it is estimated that 4,800 km2 of rainforest is cut down every year to grow soybeans.

Most soybeans are consumed by humans indirectly: soybeans are widely used as feed for chickens, pigs, fish, and cattle on factory farms. It also accounts for around 27% of the world’s vegetable oil production, and as a complete source of protein it is often a key part of vegetarian and vegan diets.

By 2021, at least 94 companies have committed to zero deforestation, pledging to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. But research has shown that many of these commitments are not met in practice.

And researchers say zero-deforestation commitments are lagging behind among small and medium-sized food companies.

“Pledges to zero deforestation are a great first step, but they need to be implemented to make an impact on forests, and now mostly big companies have the resources to do that,” said Professor Rachel Garrett, Moran Professor of Conservation and Development at the Science- Cambridge University’s Conservation Research Institute, joint senior author of the report.

She added: “If soy traders do meet their global commitments to zero-deforestation production, current levels the forest clearance in Brazil can be reduced by about 40 percent.”

Deforestation is the second most important cause global greenhouse gas emissions after using fossil fuels. It also causes the loss of animal and plant diversity, threatens the livelihoods of indigenous groups, and increases inequality and conflict.

Researchers say supply chains for other food products, including cattle, oil palm and cocoa, are more complex than soy, making them even more difficult to control.

“If supply chain policies are to contribute to the challenge of reducing deforestation in Brazil, it is essential to extend deforestation-free supply chain policies beyond soy,” said Garrett, who is also a professor of environmental policy at ETH Zurich.

The Soy Moratorium was the first voluntary zero-deforestation commitment in the tropics—by signing it, companies agreed not to buy soy produced on land logged after 2006. But while commitment was implemented in the Brazilian Amazon, most of Brazil’s soybeans are produced in the Cerrado, which is rich in biodiversity.

The researchers say their findings show that private sector efforts are not enough to stop deforestation: Support from political leadership is also vital to forest conservation efforts.

“Supply chain management should not replace public forest policy, which is critical to ensuring zero deforestation monitoring and enforcement, has the best potential to cover diverse cultures, land users and regions,” Garrett said.

In 2021, the COP26 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use committed to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030. More than 100 countries have signed it, representing 85% of the world’s forests.

Despite commitments, Brazil’s beef sector is tainted by purchases from protected lands in the Amazon basin

Additional information:
Adoption and implementation gaps limit the current and potential effectiveness of deforestation-free soy supply chain policies, Environmental Studies Letters (2022). DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac97f6

Citation: ‘Deforestation-free’ supply chain pledges have had little impact on Amazon deforestation (October 27, 2022) Retrieved October 27, 2022, from chain-pledges- affected-forest.html

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