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Soy farming destroying Amazon rainforest

Brazil: A team from McGill University in Canada and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia has discovered that soy production is indirectly causing deforestation in the Amazon region. To carry out the study, the McGill/CIAT team used annual census data on deforestation, crop harvested areas and livestock population for the period 2000–2006 from municipalities within the Brazilian Legal Amazon. One challenge facing the researchers was the introduction of 16 new municipalities in the region; they overcame this by using GIS system to develop a consistent approach to the data.

Navin Ramankutty of McGill, said, “There are now several studies using remote sensing data that have asked the same question. Working with remote sensing data is computer-intensive, time-consuming and expensive. Hence, the same question has not been examined basin-wide. On the other hand, census/survey data exist at the municipio level covering the entire Amazon basin.”

The analysis showed that deforestation shifted 39 km to the northeast between 2000 and 2006, while pasture moved 87 km to the northwest and soybeans shifted 82 km to the northeast.

“These findings point to the need for more field-based research to test the displacement hypothesis and suggest that policymakers face important tradeoffs to satisfy the demands of the livestock and soybean industries versus conservation of the Amazon,” write the researchers in a paper in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

According to Ramankutty, the emerging consensus seems to be that ranching and not soy cultivation, is to blame for deforestation. But, while Ramankutty and his colleagues’ findings support previous research that most of the deforestation in the Amazon can be explained by pasture expansion in situ and not soy expansion, they also found that soybean expansion could have led to deforestation indirectly.

Source: Environmental Research Web