The global commodities trader bought soybeans from farms responsible for mass deforestation in the Cerrado savanna, researchers say
By Jake Spring
BRASILIA, March 30 (Reuters) - Global commodities trader Bunge bought soybeans from farms responsible for deforesting an area twice as large as Manhattan in Brazil's Cerrado savanna in 2020, the most among the world's major trading firms, a report said on Tuesday.
Brazil's SLC Agricola, which sells to Bunge and others, was the soy producer responsible for the most deforestation. The company cleared 101.5 square km (39 square miles) - according to an analysis by Chain Reaction Research, a consortium of nongovernment organizations.
Bunge and SLC Agricola said the deforestation was not illegal.
The Cerrado, which borders the Amazon rainforest and makes up nearly a quarter of Brazil's territory, sequesters vast amounts of climate-warming greenhouse gas in its vegetation. Cerrado plants sink deep roots into the ground that have been likened to an upside-down forest.
Roughly half of the Cerrado has been destroyed to date, largely to make way for farming of soy, beef, corn and other agricultural products.
While Amazon deforestation is strictly limited to 20% of a farmers property, producers in some areas of the Cerrado can clear up to 80% of their land legally.
The Chain Reaction Research report analyzed the top farmers and agricultural trading companies linked to this legal deforestation in the Cerrado.
"Illegal deforestation and legal deforestation has exactly the same impact - both have impact on climate change," said Gerard Rijk, an analyst with Dutch nonprofit Profundo, a member of the consortium.
"The fast-moving consumer industry and the supermarkets, they are very much increasingly focused on all deforestation," he added.
Bunge was by far the leader for sourcing from deforested areas, with its suppliers responsible for 131.5 square km (51 square miles) cleared in 2020.
Second-ranked Cargill had nearly 12 times less deforestation in 2020 than Bunge.
Bunge said in a statement that it does not purchase soy from illegally deforested areas in the Cerrado and is working to eliminate all deforestation from its supply chains by 2025. The company said it has extensive deforestation monitoring in place for some 8,000 farms that account for 96% of its purchases in the region.
A Cargill spokeswoman said that the company is committed to ending deforestation in its supply chains by 2030, including legal clearances, and it is working to accelerate those efforts.
The Chain Reaction Research report is based on official Brazilian government deforestation data, public records and information disclosed by the companies, but may not capture all of the relationships between trading firms and farmers who deforest. The official government period for annual deforestation is measured from August 2019 to July 2020.
Sao Paulo-listed SLC Agricola, which primarily operates farms in the Cerrado, confirmed that it had deforested 110 square km (42.5 square miles) in 2020. The company plans to end all deforestation by the end of its 2020/2021 crop year, which ends in August, with roughly 16 square km (6 square miles) left to be cleared.
All of the deforestation was done legally, it said in a statement.
The company cultivated areas totaling 468,200 hectares (4,682 square km) in the 2020/2021 crop season, according to its fourth quarter earnings report. The company told Reuters it has preserved 33% of its land, exceeding the legal requirement.
(Reporting by Jake Spring; editing by Jonathan Oatis)