A man and two boys in a field look at their crop.
Soy field in Brazil Pio Stefanello is one of the soy farmers working with the Conservancy in Santarem, in the state of Para, Brazil. © Palani Mohan

Companies Investing in Nature


Protecting the Forests and Grasslands of Brazil

The Brazilian Amazon and the savannas of the Brazilian Cerrado are globally important for conservation but are also vitally important to the world’s agricultural economy, as Brazil’s beef and soy industries expand. Responsible economic development needs to happen in a way that preserves as much native habitat and biodiversity as possible. That’s why, since 2004, The Nature Conservancy has been working with Cargill to apply its science-based approach and expertise in conservation planning, and on-the-ground experience to help Cargill develop systems to ensure it only buys soybeans from farmers who are working to comply with Brazil’s advanced environmental legislation, the Forest Code.

As a result of this effort the Conservancy is increasing governance on agricultural frontiers, influencing national policy debates, and has helped Cargill play a leading role in establishing the Amazon Soy Moratorium. The Soy Moratorium is a groundbreaking agreement between companies and environmental groups that has since 2006 ensured soy expansion in the Amazon has been steered to already cleared land and protects selected forest for permanent protection. This is an important part of the success story of declining deforestation rates in the Amazon in recent years.

We understand that if we want to influence thousands of farmers and work at the large scale necessary to make an impact on deforestation, then a good way to do that is engage the private sector. Cargill and other members of ABIOVE, the Brazilian soya industry association, source soybeans from thousands of large-scale and smallholder farmers in Brazil. Through improved agriculture management practices promoted by the Conservancy's responsible soy project, Cargill can work directly with farmers to help influence the manner in which soy is produced.

The Commitment

Since 2004, the Responsible Soy project has successfully promoted responsible soy production in the Santarém area in the Brazilian state of Pará, where Cargill has a soy terminal, by helping soy farmers comply with the Brazilian Forest Code. The success of the collaboration between the Conservancy and Cargill is evident from the reduction in deforestation in the farms participating in the project since 2006. A monitoring system was set up where every farm in the municipalities around the terminal was plotted onto an annually updated satellite image of the region, allowing deforestation to be tracked and Cargill to exclude producers not complying with the Forest Code. This technically advanced but modestly priced solution has been a key influence in government thinking on deforestation control in Brazil overall. The system has also helped authorities in the design of a satellite-based Rural Environmental Registry now operating in over a hundred counties in the Amazon and Cerrado, where it is known under its Portuguese acronym of CAR – Cadastro Ambiental Rural.

Cargill and the Conservancy have recently renewed their partnership with a three year commitment to expand the Responsible Soy project by piloting and testing monitoring systems for environmental impacts beyond deforestation, such as pesticide use and water quality. The program with also extend the initiative to reach farmers in the adjoining state of Mato Grosso. Additionally, the Conservancy will provide assistance to enable farmers in the Santarém region to obtain a legally required license demonstrating Forest Code compliance. This will serve as an important model for the Pará state government to expand its licensing efforts. And because the Conservancy brings non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions to conservation challenges, we are seen by all parties – state and federal agencies, farmers and farm organizations and companies - as a trusted partner in Brazil.

“Cargill and the Conservancy's partnership demonstrates that critical areas of biodiversity can be protected while the development of responsible agricultural production continues,” said Mark Murphy, assistant vice president, Cargill Corporate Affairs. “We want to help ensure that the world’s increasing appetite for soy is met through environmentally sustainable agriculture that protects the Brazilian Amazon.”

Solutions in Action

Under the existing program, 383 soy farms in the Santarém area are registered with the Pará state government and CAR , the first step for farmers and ranchers towards compliance with Brazil’s environmental laws and an important tool to reconcile environmental conservation and economic development in the region. Cargill only purchases soybeans from those farms in this area registered in the CAR system.

The program will allow the Conservancy and Cargill to expand the responsible sourcing initiative in up to 20 additional municipalities in Mato Grosso, covering an additional 15 million hectares of land (37 million acres), including approximately 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) planted in soy, that are most at risk from planned road improvements. It allows the company to play its role in channeling soy expansion into land that has already been cleared, especially pasture, rather than the conversion of forests and grasslands. With the intensification of agriculture that results -- and with production systems becoming more efficient while less geographically extensive -- Brazil is managing to produce more while simultaneously cutting habitat conversion rates. This is an example of environmentally responsible development that the world can learn from.

A Sustainable Future

“We know that we will not create a sustainable planet unless we engage the private sector in new conservation solutions,” said Marcio Sztutman, acting director for The Nature Conservancy’s Amazon program. “We are working with Cargill to help farmers keep their trees standing and comply with the Brazilian Forest Code – a set of conservation rules in the Amazon that are among the strictest in the world. Besides helping Amazon farmers maintain the environmental balance on their farms, we are helping Cargill implement environmentally responsible sourcing decisions, piloting an effective model for others and most importantly, preserving the precious biodiversity of the Amazon.”

Cargill’s renewed three-year, $3 million commitment will also enable the Conservancy to launch a new effort to promote cocoa production in the communities of Tucumã and São Félix do Xingu in Pará state. Cocoa production is native to the Amazon biome and it offers an opportunity to restore deforested lands, while presenting small-scale farmers with an economically viable alternative to land speculation and cattle ranching. The grant will also support the Conservancy’s ongoing work in Argentina to protect areas of high conservation value, including national and provincial protected areas.