Responding to pressure from NGOs, 23 consumer goods companies, many European, have committed to halting deforestation and native vegetation loss for soy in the Brazilian tropical savannah, the Cerrado.
The Cerrado Manifesto aims to deal with the soy expansion that threatens the functions and people of the Cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot and source of many of Brazil’s fresh water systems. Between 2000 and 2014 the Cerrado’s agricultural area expanded by 87 per cent, mainly due to soybean production (108 per cent increase).
NGOs are concerned, however about how signatories, including companies such as Marks & Spencer, Unilever and Delhaize will uphold their commitment. A 2016 Climate Focus report found that only six per cent of surveyed manufacturers sourcing soy from deforestation hotspots in Brazil could trace the soy to the farm.
The 2017 Climate Focus report highlights a major gap between financing agribusiness and financing sustainable farming. While agribusiness receives USD 887 billion in public and private finance and investment, only USD 14.5 billion go to financing ‘green’ land use. In fact, companies interviewed by Fern reported no pressure from their investors to increase ambition towards zero deforestation; some investors even encouraged a deeper focus on short-term profits.
Agter (an NGO working on land governance issues) has produced a guide to due diligence, which states that new agricultural projects should be evaluated against whether they promote a truly inclusive business model, taking into account the resilience of local production and subsistence systems.
Company commitments such as the Cerrado manifesto can be effective only in concert with broader and deeper engagement by all parties involved in financing, producing and selling soy and other forest-risk commodities. As one of the largest buyers of forest-risk commodities, the EU should lead the way and swiftly adopt an EU Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights in order to create the conditions for companies to uphold their zero-deforestation commitments.