Goal of no deforestation next year in Brazil savanna unfeasible: soy association

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Setting 2020 as a cut-off date to ban new deforestation and land conversion for soybean areas in Brazil’s Cerrado savanna is not feasible, André Nassar, head of the country’s oilseeds crushers’ group, Abiove, said on Tuesday.

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He was responding to a letter from a group of international companies, which urged major commodities traders to stop supplying soy linked to deforestation from the Cerrado, a vast savanna region and vital carbon storehouse.

For years, trading companies have discussed with European customers and NGOs ways to guarantee zero-deforestation in supply chains, Nassar said. But such debate has always pitted both groups “on opposite sides” of the argument, he told Reuters in an interview, as traders refuse to enforce a “moratorium” on soybean farmers that they see as unfair.

“Imposing a cut-off date would mean excluding farmers even when they expand areas legally,” Nassar said. “We’ve always said we would not do it.”

Brazilian law allows landowners to clear up to 80% of native vegetation in the Cerrado.

Abiove and its members have instead proposed to the signatories of the Cerrado Manifesto Statement of Support that financial incentives be introduced to give farmers compensation for not opening up new areas.

Under the plan, farmers would not grow acreage in exchange for lease payments on land that they would intend to cultivate with Brazil’s most prized export commodity. The scheme would last five years and could stir a gradual cultural change, Nassar said.

Only three companies that make up the Cerrado Manifesto have publicly said they would invest money in such an initiative, Nassar said.

Individually, trading companies have their own target dates for eradicating deforestation. But Tuesday’s letter is seen as an attempt to accelerate the process.

“It is way to exert pressure,” Nassar said. “It is a way to tell public opinion and the NGOs ... in Europe, ‘We did what we had to.’”

Reporting by Ana Mano in Sao Paulo; Editing by Matthew Lewis