Brazil farmers push traders to end Amazon soy moratorium

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian farmers plan to start a campaign next week to end a ban by trading firms on buying soybeans from parts of the Amazon rainforest cleared after 2008, leaders from a major farmer group told Reuters, citing support from President Jair Bolsonaro.

FILE PHOTO: A worker inspects soybeans during the soy harvest near the town of Campos Lindos, Brazil February 18, 2018. / REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo

The push to end traders’ voluntary “soy moratorium” — one of the farm industry’s most high-profile efforts to preserve the Amazon — comes despite mounting global pressure on Brazil to protect the environment from its expanding farm frontier.

Rising deforestation in the Amazon and the sight of fires raging there this year have gripped the world’s attention, but the world’s biggest grains traders cited their moratorium as evidence that the destruction was not driven by demand for soy.

Some have even suggested the model of a voluntary soy ban could be expanded to the adjacent Cerrado biome, where the pace of deforestation has outstripped the Amazon in recent years.

Farmers are having none of that, Bartolomeu Braz Pereira, president of Brazilian soy producer association Aprosoja Brasil, said in an interview.

“They came with plans to expand the moratorium to the Cerrado and we said we’re going to overturn it in the Amazon,” Pereira said. “We’re discussing that with the government.”

He said Bolsonaro and his chief of staff had agreed at an Aug. 29 meeting that the soy moratorium unfairly hurt Brazilian farmers complying with domestic laws and that the government would soon come out against it.

Press representatives for Bolsonaro declined to confirm or deny Aprosoja’s account. Representatives for his chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment.

Bolsonaro has pledged to bring down barriers to economic development in the Amazon and lashed out at global criticism of Brazil’s environmental record. But he has not publicly backed Aprosoja’s campaign to overturn the Amazon soy moratorium.

Soy crushing group Abiove, which represents global grains traders in Brazil, warned that such a move could hurt farmers, creating backlash against Brazilian goods in European markets, where consumers demand more environmentally sustainable farming.

“(Producers) have no idea of the impact, if the moratorium were overturned. It would be huge,” said Abiove President André Nassar.

He added that the ban had not stopped the growth of farming in the Amazon, as farmers can continue to expand soy planting in parts of the biome cleared before 2008.

However, farmers represented by Aprosoja are demanding that traders also buy soy from the 20% of their land in the Amazon that they are allowed to deforest by law.

“The producer has to have the right to do what the law says. It’s a matter of national sovereignty,” said Antonio Galvan, vice-president of Aprosoja.

Reporting by Roberto Samora; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Ana Mano; Editing by Brad Haynes and Marguerita Choy