The moratorium was initially a short-term agreement, but it was renewed eight times and then in May 2016, against all the odds, the moratorium was renewed indefintely.
"The renewal of the moratorium indefinitely ensures producers and trading companies can continue to rely on forest friendly Amazon soy to keep the doors to the global market open, even in times of environmental and political-economic crisis", said Paulo Adario, Senior Forest Strategist for Greenpeace International and signatory of the agreement.
The moratorium has been an incredible success, which is especially impressive given that the price of soya has been high over the period. One recent academic study found:
“Between 2001 and 2006, prior to the moratorium, soybean fields in the Brazilian Amazon expanded by 1 million hectares, contributing to record deforestation rates. By 2014, after eight years of the moratorium, almost no additional forest was cleared to grow new soy.”
Inevitably, there are some problems. One problem is that the moratorium only covers the Brazilian Amazon, and deforestation for soya has continued in other places such as Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil’s Cerrado forests.
Soy certification schemes
As well as the moratorium, there are two main certification schemes that are active in South American soya: The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and ProTerra. They both started about the same time as the moratorium. A decade on, their most glaring feature is how much less successful they have been than the moratorium.
The schemes both demand that soya meets basic environmental and labour standards. The ProTerra scheme differs in that the soya must be non-GM, and also, when you buy a bit of ProTerra certified soya, it is guaranteed to be the same bit that received the certification. The Roundtable allows some certification credits to be bought and sold separately from the soya that earned them.
So far, engagement with these schemes has been pretty limp. Only 0.5% of soya from Brazil is RTRS certified, and half the credits that have been issued have not been sold, due to a lack of buyers. A slightly larger amount is ProTerra certified, but not much. It is possible that this lack of interest may have been partly due to the success of the moratorium.
Many groups such as Friends of the Earth have criticised the Roundtable for having lax standards, pointing out, for example, that the criteria contain loose ideas like “native forest” that are easily open to abuse.
What happens now?
Things have definitely improved in the last decade. But there are still major problems.
There is something that none of these schemes address, which is soya’s indirect impact – widely believed to be a factor in the remaining Amazon destruction. It works like this: cattle ranchers sell their land to soya farmers, pocket the money and move into the forest themselves. The soya comes up smelling of roses because it is not being grown on ‘recently deforested land’. It has displaced its guilt onto the cattle. While there is also a beef moratorium in Brazil, it is not yet clear whether it is working as well as the soya one.
The theory is that the Brazilian government will take over forest protection. Over the past few years it has built a national land registry to clarify who owns what, and companies are saying that this should give it sufficient agency to enforce its own land use policies as it sees fit.
But there are several problems here, one of which is that the law is too weak. Since 1965 the Brazilian ‘Forest Code’ has officially protected Brazil’s forests; stipulating protected areas and demanding that landowners conserve native forest on a certain proportion of their land, ranging from 80% in the Amazon, to 20% in other areas. While that is something, it still allows for quite a bit of deforestation. Furthermore, the law was weakened in 2012 after a big political fight, which does not bode well.
Another problem is that, even with the land registry, it remains to be seen how well the government will enforce the law.
Recent research found farmers five times more likely to violate the Forest Code than the soya moratorium.