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New commitments for Brazil’s Cerrado?

Cargill has announced a new soy policy for South America and a group of traders have signed up to a new monitoring initiative, but are these commitments enough to protect the Cerrado?

by Helen Burley

The soy giant Cargill has unveiled a new sustainable soy policy for South America, committing that its soy will be deforestation-free, and that it will protect “natural vegetation beyond forests”, including important areas such as Brazil’s Cerrado and the Chaco which stretches across Argentina and Paraguay.

The company’s forest policy, which has been updated, now applies “across all entities, all agri supply chains, including indirect, with immediate effect”.

The company has committed to publish a time-bound Action Plan, developed in consultation with stakeholders, by the 15 June 2019, which will be key in establishing how the commitment will be implemented and the timeframe that it is working to.

New mechanism for monitoring deforestation in the Cerrado

Cargill is also one of the six companies to sign up to a new agreement to improve transparency and traceability for soybean supply chains in Brazil’s vast Cerrado.

The Cerrado’s ecologically and carbon rich biome has been the target for much of the recent soy expansion in Brazil – not only threatening precious biodiversity, but also impacting the region’s water supplies. 

The initiative, led by the Soft Commodities Platform, follows sustained pressure from NGOs and some retailers and manufacturers in soy supply chains to increase protection for the area.

Cargill and the other five companies (Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, COFCO, Louis Dreyfus and Glencore Agriculture) have agreed to a common mechanism to monitor deforestation, recognising the importance of the Cerrado's vegetation, but the statement does not include any agreement to eliminate deforestation and vegetation clearance.

This is particularly disappointing given that some of the companies have gone beyond this in their individual commitments. Louis Dreyfus committed last year to discourage and eliminate the clearance of native vegetation, while COFCO has a policy to avoid deforestation and protect against conversion of natural and critical habitats leading to loss of biodiversity.

Need to do more

The Soft Commodities Platform agreement does however represent some progress in that it is important that companies work together to address these complex challenges. But the slow steps are cause for concern. As Cargill’s updated forest policy recognises, there is an urgent need to act on climate change – and eliminating the clearance of forests and native vegetation is key to this. While better monitoring is crucial, this needs to lead to action by the soy traders involved. Simply monitoring the loss of vegetation on its own, is not enough.

Similarly, Cargill’s new soy policy is an important step in the right direction but its value will ultimately depend on the promised action plan.

Forest 500 has introduced new assessment criteria to look at the steps companies are taking to implement commitments, recognising that without these, it is impossible to understand what progress companies are making.

Our assessment process suggests there are still large gaps in Cargill’s new policy.

When developing the action plan, we urge Cargill to consider:

  • clear commitments on levels of transparency (will they for example be publishing details of sourcing areas and suppliers?),
  • clear commitments on levels of traceability;
  • clear commitments on how suppliers are monitored for compliance;
  • details of how non-compliance is dealt with;
  • and clear information about grievance procedures, which should be open to all and should cover environmental and social issues, is also important.

Time is running out for companies making commitments to eliminate the conversion of native vegetation – not just because the 2020 deadline is looming but because time is also running out to protect global biodiversity and keep global temperature rise from climate change within two degrees.

All of the companies operating in forest-risk commodity sectors need to be taking urgent action while there are still forests and important native vegetation such as the Cerrado and the Chaco left to save.

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