In a decisive move, the 23 international food companies step up to publicly commit to protect the Brazilian Cerrado – one of the most threatened habitats on the planet. Before the first month of 2018 ended, the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 had announced that the number of companies supporting protection of the Brazilian Cerrado had nearly tripled, from the total of 23 announced in October 2017 to 63 signatories on Jan 25th.
The Cerrado is one of the most amazing biomes on the planet. However, most people have never heard of it before because it’s impressive neighbor – the Amazon – typically gets all the attention. This extraordinary move by the private sector sends a strong message, loud and clear, that industry is ready to take action to help stop the destructive expansion of unsustainable agricultural production across this region.
This is a huge step forward and will help ensure that the growth and development of agriculture in this region does not jeopardize wildlife or the social, economic, and environmental backbone of the Cerrado.
What’s driving the destruction of the Cerrado?
To date, almost 45% of the Cerrado’s native vegetation has already been cleared. This adds up to over 220 million acres, which is equivalent to losing an area larger than the size of California – twice. Among the many factors that contribute to the destruction of the Cerrado (including infrastructure projects, urban development and mining), the single largest factor is the expansion of agricultural production for cattle and soy. In fact, about 90% of deforestation and conversion of native habitat in Brazil is attributed to the expansion of pasture and commercial crops.
The logic is that by signing the declaration companies are sending a clear signal to the market: consumers want products that aren’t the result of deforestation – and demand for soy and beef can be met by existing crop and pasture land. In theory, this will weaken the case for converting further natural vegetation to agriculture – but if only it was that simple.
Some reports have suggested that deforestation in the region is on the rise due to the success of conservation policies that have “pushed” agricultural companies out of the Amazon. In reality the Cerrado was largely transformed to agricultural monocultures decades ago. When food companies signed the Amazon Soy Moratorium in 2006, they were already sourcing it from the Cerrado.
Food companies need to switch from “opting out” of deforestation to “opting in” to landscape restoration. It’s hard to truly opt out of deforestation as agricultural commodities are repeatedly aggregated, processed and aggregated again which makes them harder to trace. Setting up “certified supply chains” is also complex and costly – it’s much simpler and cheaper for companies to instead opt to buy (or not buy) from a certain region. In the Amazon, where forests are vast and agriculture relatively recent, these sort of pledges not to farm a certain area made sense. In the Cerrado an opt-in restoration pledge is required.