A new study has shown that Brazil's Soy Moratorium -- an industry-led pledge not to clear Amazon rainforest for soy production -- has had incredible benefits. But there's also bad news.
The study, undertaken by U.S. and Brazilian researchers and published in the leading journal Science, was led by Holly Gibbs of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The team found that, prior to the Moratorium's commencement in 2006, about 30% of the soy planted in the Amazon directly replaced rainforest.
In fact, the impact of soy on the Amazon was even greater than Gibbs and colleagues suggest, because a lot of soy farmers bought up Amazon cattle ranches to expand their farms, pushing the ranchers deeper into the rainforest and thereby promoting more deforestation for ranching.
But after the Moratorium, the impact on the Amazon from soy fell sharply. By 2014, less than 1% of soy replaced rainforest, according to Gibbs and colleagues.
While this is a tremendous accomplishment, the Moratorium doesn't apply to Brazil's biodiversity-rich Cerrado, a vast but imperiled savanna-woodland that's a global biodiversity hotspot. There, soy expansion continues to be a major driver of habitat loss.
Some in Brazil -- particularly elements of the powerful soy lobby -- are arguing that the Soy Moratorium should be dropped, because Brazil's government is effective enough, they say, to limit soy expansion into environmentally important areas.
But the study by Gibbs and colleagues suggests exactly the opposite. They found abundant evidence of illegal deforestation in the Amazon, in areas such as Legal Reserves. This suggests that the government alone can't halt illegal deforestation without help from major land-using industries such as soy producers.
Hence, rather than being canceled, the Soy Moratorium should remain in force and should even be expanded -- to include the rapidly vanishing Cerrado as well.
Let's hope that sanity prevails in Brazil. Those combating the Soy Moratorium will find themselves facing major boycotts and public shaming if they kill off one of the best industry-led environmental initiatives in the world.