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Brazilians want to end Amazon Soy Moratorium

Production could increase in rainforest-- but at what cost?

First it was “Captain Chainsaw” who spoke out about Brazil’s Amazon Soy Moratorium, effective in the Amazon Biome since 2006. But as of late, the country’s ag minister has joined, followed by other federal government officials, in what looks like an effort to resume growing soybeans in the rainforests. Or, depending on your viewpoint, it’s European eco-snobs threatening Brazil’s sovereignty, as France’s President Emmanuel Macron did when he criticized rampant fires across the region.

“Captain Chainsaw” is a nickname embraced by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who wants others to quit sticking their noses into Brazil’s use of the rainforest. The “Soybean Moratorium," an agreement by processors to not handle soy produced in the Amazon Rainforest, is viewed as Europe-based environmental NGOs pressuring oilseed processors to refuse to handle soy produced in the Amazon.

The moratorium seemed like a good enough deal to many at the time it was signed. The NGOs signed off on it, European fast-food consumers seemed happy enough, and by most accounts, Brazil doesn’t need the Amazon to increase bean production. It has been estimated that the country could double or triple production simply by converting degraded pastureland to beans.

Armed with some of the toughest environmental legislation on the planet (in the Amazon Biome, producers are allowed to clear no more than 20% of the total acreage of any given farm,) President Bolsonaro and his representatives have been beating the drum that they’re taking plenty good care of the Amazon without foreign intervention.

But also, producers in the region are taking advantage of the new climate brought about by the administration in Brasilia to make themselves heard. Last week a Brazilian soybean producer group presented a government official with results of a meeting of 63 producers from the region who say they can’t get financing for beans-in-the-ground-- a popular way to cover planting costs through processors-- because they can’t get the proper environmental licenses.

“Our (ag) production is the most sustainable in the world,” said the president of the soybean group. “We want to meet the demands of the (federal) Forest Code. We don’t need NGOs regulating our producers.”

Perhaps, that is enough reason for indignation, but it makes me wonder whether McDonalds, KFC and others operating in Europe may eventually graduate from saying there is “no Amazon soy used in producing our meats” to “no Brazilian soy used in producing our meats.”

Maybe it’ll never happen. But if it did-- even among just a few food retailers, that could turn any rejection of the Soybean Moratorium into a pyrrhic victory.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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