New research by university and NASA scientists suggests that deforestation of the Amazon for soy production has declined under the moratorium. However, as the moratorium was only applicable to the Brazilian Amazon, a very different scenario has been playing out in neighboring savanna-woodland areas known as Brazil’s Cerrado.
Soy expansion between 2001 and 2006 largely occurred as infilling around farms that already existed in 2001 (light green). After 2006, the new frontiers for soy production appeared in Mapitoba—an eastern subregion within the Cerrado and a recent hotspot for agriculture—as well as in the Araguaia River basin and portions of Mato Grosso do Sul.
“Looking at the dynamics of soy expansion in the Cerrado region provides a more complete picture of changes before and after the Amazon’s moratorium,” said Doug Morton, NASA scientist and co-author of the recent paper published in Science. “Although Cerrado regions are not covered by the moratorium, environmental laws still require set-aside areas of native vegetation. Forest cover losses in the Cerrado partially offset declining deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon.”
Without a corresponding moratorium, 11 to 23 percent of new farmland cleared each year for soy in the Cerrado (blue bars) was carved out of natively vegetated land. The expansion was even more widespread in Mapitoba (red bars), where that number hovered around 40 percent.
“Intensifying agricultural production on existing cleared areas is seen as a win-win strategy,” said Morton, “increasing outputs while safeguarding habitat and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions from land cover change.”
Yet soy expansion is part of a complicated regional development puzzle. “To be effective, the soy moratorium must be replicated in other sectors, such as beef and leather, and in neighboring biomes,” Morton said. “Otherwise, soy may simply displace other land uses further into the forest.”
References and Related Reading
- Gibbs, H.K. et al, (2015, January 23) Brazil’s Soy Moratorium. Science, 347 (6220), 377-378.
- Macedo, M. et al, (2012, January 9) Decoupling of deforestation and soy production in the southern Amazon during the late 2000s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109 (4), 1341-1346.
- Morton, D. et al, (2006, July 27) Cropland expansion changes deforestation dynamics in the southern Brazilian Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103 (39), 14637-14641.
- Reuters (2014, November 25) Brazil soy moratorium extended to protect Amazon forest. Accessed February 25, 2015.