Soyfield in Amazon
Sunlit savanna. The Cerrado of Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park. © Scott Warren

Transforming Business Practices


Protecting the Brazilian Savanna Habitat

The Challenge

The savannas of central Brazil are one of the world’s most important soy producing areas.  For nearly a decade, The Nature Conservancy has been working to minimize the impacts of agricultural expansion on tropical frontiers.  Responsible economic development needs to happen in a way that preserves as much native habitat and biodiversity as possible. Although soy has not been an important driver of deforestation in the Amazon – ranching is responsible for around 80% of forest clearance since records began in 1988 – vigilance is required to ensure that remains the case.

China has gone from 20% of Brazil’s soy export market to 60% over the last decade, and is projected to reach 80% within 5 years. Soy’s main application is in feed for cattle and chickens, and demand for meat will accelerate dramatically over the next generation. Unless we can intensify soy production, and focus expansion into areas already cleared, it could become a driver of deforestation. Concerted action against deforestation linked to soy began with the Amazon Soy Moratorium in July 2006. Deforestation from all sources is a sixth of its level a decade ago, as more effective monitoring systems, targeted enforcement and improving governance levels in the Amazon have combined to improve the situation. This collaboration builds on that success.

At the moment, major soy companies are building soy trans-shipment facilities in the Amazon, closer to export markets in China and Europe than the clogged ports in southern Brazil where most soy exports are currently routed.  A highway to the Amazon soy terminals will shortly be asphalted. It is imperative that the Conservancy work with major soy companies to ensure coming soy expansion is channeled into areas already cleared, and that the company sources soy from farmers in compliance with Brazil’s Forest Code, an advanced legal framework for reconciling the demands of agricultural expansion with conservation.

The Commitment

Bunge is one of the largest soy companies in the region. Like the Conservancy, they have recognized the importance of protecting the Brazilian savanna habitat, while still ensuring their ability to produce and ship soy to their global markets. The company has engaged the Conservancy in a new $4 million dollar effort over the next five years to help Bunge get its soy suppliers in targeted municipalities up to full compliance with the Forest Code, and identify early signs of soy expansion around new facilities in the Amazon. Satellite-based monitoring systems will be used.

Solutions in Action

This engagement will build on the Conservancy’s previous experience in the region helping companies such as Cargill, Fiagril and Adecoagro, endeavor to adhere to the rigorous Forest Code. The Conservancy has been engaged in a responsible soy effort in Brazil since 2004, and this new engagement is an expansion on that priority.

The Conservancy will work with Bunge in municipalities that are important soy producing areas but which still contain a large amount of intact habitat, especially grasslands. These export corridors are likely to see expanded production in coming years, as infrastructure improves. Therefore, it is critical that the organizations contain the expansion into areas already cleared for pasture which could be converted to soy, rather than into native habitat.

While this work is in its infancy with Bunge, having just started in January 2013, both organizations believe that successful implementation could lead to additional work on similar sustainable intensification issues in other parts of Brazil as well.