Extension of the moratorium to the Brazilian savanna would prevent the loss of 3.6 million hectares of native vegetation that risk being converted into soybean plantations by 2050, according to a study published in Science Advances (photo: Aline Cristina Soterroni)
Published on 05/12/2021
By Elton Alisson in São Pedro (Brazil) | Agência FAPESP – The Soy Moratorium is a pledge signed in 2006 by vegetable oil processors and exporters to ban the trade of soybeans grown on Brazilian Amazon land deforested after it came into effect. Enforced by the soy industry, the Brazilian government and NGOs, it has protected the Amazon biome from further destruction to make way for soybean plantations. However, the threat of destruction has shifted to the Cerrado, as Brazil’s savanna biome is called, where an increasing amount of native vegetation has been cleared and replaced by vast fields of soybeans.
The Soy Moratorium should be extended to the Cerrado, say researchers from Brazil, Austria, Belgium, France and the United States in an article published in the journal Science Advances.
If it came into effect in 2021, the extension would prevent the direct loss of 3.6 million hectares of native vegetation that risk being converted to soybean cultivation by 2050, according to the study.
Some of its findings were presented during the São Paulo School of Advanced Science on Scenarios and Modeling in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services to Support Human Well-Being, held on July 1-14, 2019, in São Pedro, São Paulo State (Brazil). The event was supported by FAPESP via its São Paulo School of Advanced Science (SPSAS) program and was attended by 87 students from 20 countries.
“Even discounting land-use ‘leakage’, i.e., increased native vegetation conversion to pasture and other crops due to the expansion of soybeans into already deforested areas, we estimate that extending the Soy Moratorium to the Cerrado would save 2.3 million hectares of native vegetation in the biome,” Aline Cristina Soterroni, a Brazilian researcher at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and first author of the study, told Agência FAPESP.
The Cerrado accounts for approximately 50% of the soybeans grown in Brazil, according to IBGE, the national statistics and census bureau. Almost a quarter of the biome’s soybean-growing area is located in a region known as MaToPiBa, which includes portions of the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí, and Bahia. Some of the last intact remnants of the Cerrado are located there. Soybean production in the region rose 253% between 2000 and 2014.
Brazil’s soybean production is set to continue rising in the coming decades to meet demand from China and other major consumers, and most of the growth will occur in the Cerrado, according to the researchers.
“The Cerrado is at the forefront of agricultural expansion in Brazil,” Soterroni said. “Although it’s a biodiversity hotspot and contains some of the country’s largest watersheds, it could disappear because of its lack of protection and attention compared with the Amazon and because the remaining areas of vegetation are being converted into pasture and croplands at a faster pace.”
Unlike the Amazon, almost half of which is protected by conservation laws of some kind, only 13% of the Cerrado is protected, and only 20% of the biome remains undisturbed by human activities. The Forest Code requires landowners to conserve 80% of the native vegetation on their land in the Amazon but only 20% in the Cerrado, or 35% for Cerrado areas located in the Amazon region.
Moreover, while deforestation has been reduced in the Amazon by governmental and regulatory measures in conjunction with supply chain initiatives such as the Soy Moratorium, initiatives of this kind have not prospered in the Cerrado, according to Soterroni.
“When governance and political will are weak, as they have been in the case of the Cerrado, private-sector initiatives to combat deforestation and the conversion of native vegetation into pasture or cropland become all the more important; hence our insistence on extending the Soy Moratorium to the Cerrado,” she said.
To analyze the potential impact of this extension on soybean production, the researchers adapted the Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM) developed by IIASA to create a regional version, called GLOBIOM-Brazil, with which they simulated land-use changes based on economic dynamics over five-year time steps from 2000 to 2050.
They found that soybean-growing areas will expand by 12.4 million hectares between 2021 and 2050 in Brazil. Most of this expansion will occur in the Cerrado, where new soybean plantations are set to total 10.8 million hectares, contrasting with the 1.1 million hectares in the Amazon.
The study estimates that 86% of this conversion of native vegetation into soybean-growing areas will occur in MaToPiBa, the region on the border between the Cerrado and the Caatinga (the Northeast’s semiarid biome) where most of the remaining undisturbed savanna vegetation is located.
The extension of the Soy Moratorium to the Cerrado would prevent the conversion of 3.6 million hectares of native vegetation to soybeans. Some 2 million hectares of soybeans in the Cerrado would move to other biomes, according to the simulations.
“This migration of soybeans to other biomes would occur in areas of pasture or fallow croplands, without causing additional deforestation,” said Fernando Manoel Ramos, a mechanical engineer at Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) and one of the authors of the study.
Without extension of the Soy Moratorium, strict enforcement of the Forest Code would prevent the conversion of only 0.9 million hectares of native vegetation into soybean plantations.
“The Forest Code isn’t sufficient to preserve the remaining Cerrado areas because the levels of protection it establishes for the biome are low,” Soterroni said.
The researchers also estimated the impact of a delay in implementing the extension of the Soy Moratorium to the Cerrado. According to their calculations, a delay in this decision would cause losses of native vegetation averaging 140,000 hectares per year.
“That’s equivalent to a loss of approximately one Emas National Park per year from 2016 to 2025,” Ramos said. Emas National Park is one of the Cerrado’s most important conservation units and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“If no action is taken, the Cerrado risks being transformed into a land of fragmented and impoverished vegetation,” Ramos stressed.
The Science Advances article “Expanding the Soy Moratorium to Brazil’s Cerrado” by Aline C. Soterroni, Fernando M. Ramos, Aline Mosnier, Joseph Fargione, Pedro R. Andrade, Leandro Baumgarten, Johannes Pirker, Michael Obersteiner, Florian Kraxner, Gilberto Câmara, Alexandre X. Y. Carvalho and Stephen Polasky can be read at advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaav7336.