Soaring China’s demand for beef and soy is threatening the Brazilian Amazon that are already plagued by illegal deforestation. The trade war between the United States and China and African swine fever outbreak have increased the demand for Brazilian commodities and resulted in the increasing rate of deforestation in the Amazon.
China is Brazil’s largest export market for beef, with demand increasing since last year following the African swine fever outbreak in China’s pig herds. In the first eight months of this year, Brazilian beef exports to China soared by 11% to 212,200 tonnes. In September, China approved an additional 25 Brazilian meat plants to export to this Asian country. Of the 25 cleared, 17 are beef producers, which includes Minerva SA and Marfrig Global Foods SA. Click here for the full list of newly-approved plants.
This Global Witness investigation claims both Minerva Foods and Marfrig could be buying cattle from more than 1.3 million hectares of land at risk of deforestation, including areas embargoed by Ibama for illegal deforestation between 2010 and 2015. Indonesia has also recently cleared 10 Brazilian meat processing plants for export. Minerva runs five out of 10 plants approved.
China’s demand for food products from Brazil didn’t stop at beef. The ongoing trade war between the US and China has led the Asian nation to stop buying American soybean crops and rely heavily on Brazil for the crop. China has stopped purchasing 30 million to 40 million tonnes of American soybeans it imports every year. According to Bloomberg, from May 2018 to April 2019, China imported 71 million tonnes of soybeans from Brazil, about as much as it imported from the entire world in 2014.
Brazil began growing soybeans in the 1990s and this year, the country surpassed the US to become the world’s biggest soybean producer. Since then, land used for soy production in Brazil has grown about 250 million acres annually. Today, forest that was cleared years ago is now used to rear cattle. A few years of grazing increases the nutrient content of the soil, making it better able to support crop production such as soy.
“The overall pressures of pastureland conversion into cropland have continued. Indirectly, it does have the effect of putting pressure on the forest,” says the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Up to 78,383 forest fires have been recorded in Brazil this year as of August 2019, the highest since 2013 and experts say the clearing of land during the dry season to make way for crops or grazing, has worsened the problem. As China substitutes American soybeans with those from Brazil, the rainforest may become a victim, says Bloomberg.