SEI York research contributes to a major new publication

Posted on 25 June 2018

Research carried out by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) York and partners has contributed to a major publication highlighting the environmental impact of some of the world’s most common crops.

Brazilian soy

The research, carried out in collaboration with SEI York’s partner Stockholm Centres and NGO Global Canopy, focusses on the growing and harvesting of Brazilian soy, which is a major cause of deforestation, and yet is one of the most widely-used agricultural commodities on the planet.

Published in an interactive format, the ‘Trase Yearbook 2018, Sustainability in forest-risk supply chains’, puts the spotlight on the trade of Brazilian soy, against a backdrop of growing global dependence on crops that are increasingly produced in just a few countries in the world.

York researchers - who are also active in communicating Trase findings with governments and industries across the world - helped develop the fundamental models and data which contributed to the Yearbook, and were part of the core writing team for the publication.

Dr Chris West, Trase lead on Market Engagement and Senior Researcher at the SEI York Centre, said: “We hope the Yearbook will raise awareness of the issues and complexity inherent in the trade of agricultural commodities like Brazilian soy, as well as promoting greater transparency across the supply chain.

“Hopefully, that will mean it promotes positive action, both among policymakers and business decision makers, to respond to some of the challenges we’ve identified.

"The Yearbook builds on a powerful new supply chain mapping approach to assess the soy sourcing patterns of major countries and companies in Brazil. Our work identifies the sourcing patterns for the whole of Brazil's soy exports, providing key insights into exposure to deforestation risks - that’s crucial information for companies and governments wanting to meet deforestation commitments."

Global soy production has increased from 27m tonnes in 1961 to 335m tonnes in 2016, with most soy used as a protein source for animal feed around the world. In 2016 soy exports were worth over US$20 billion to the Brazilian economy, with soy covering some 33m hectares, an area the size of France.

The Trase Yearbook highlights how just six companies account for 57 per cent of Brazilian soy exports. Taken together, the supply chains of these six traders are associated with two-thirds of the total deforestation risk directly linked to soy expansion, the majority of it in the Cerrado, one of the world’s most biodiverse savannahs.

Using new data and interactive visualisations, the Trase Yearbook links the consumer countries buying Brazilian soy to the trading companies and to the areas where the soy was grown, showing the shifting patterns of soy production.

China is the biggest market for Brazilian soy, buying 60 per cent of Brazilian exports in 2016, with imports linked to around half the soy-related habitat loss in Brazil. But the Trase Yearbook also shows that European countries are buying soy from areas where deforestation from soy is high, and where impacts per tonne of exports may be even higher than in China.

Some 10m hectares of land is expected to be converted to soy in the next decade in Brazil, with much of this likely to be in the Cerrado.

The Trase Yearbook 2018 also explores the impacts of the zero-deforestation commitments made by some companies and European countries. It finds that while these commitments offer great promise, as yet, there is little evidence of changes on the ground, with similar levels of deforestation risk for companies and countries with zero-deforestation commitments as for those without.

Arnaldo Carneiro Filho, Head of the Sustainable Supply Chain Programme and Trase lead at Global Canopy, added: “Soy is an important sector for the Brazilian economy, and an important source of animal feed, but the need for agricultural land must be balanced with the need to retain critical forest and savannah habitats. The commitments made by some companies and countries are encouraging and reflect their awareness of the problem. Opportunities for sustainable production are there to be taken, and the public and private sectors need to work together to take advantage of them.”