Soy: trade in deforestation

The rising demand for soy is having negative consequences for people and the environment in South America. Both ENDS reminds Dutch actors in the soy industry of their responsibilities and is working with partners on fair and sustainable alternatives.

Global meat consumption is increasing and with it the demand for soy, a protein-rich crop primarily used as cattle feed. This is having a disastrous impact on people, the environment and the climate. Forests are being cleared and the natural environment destroyed on a large scale, especially in South America, to free up land for soy cultivation. The greenhouse gases this releases are contributing to climate change.

Soy cultivation also has harmful effects on local, often indigenous populations. They are losing the land and forest they need to survive. Excessive use of herbicides is leading to severe water and air pollution and is creating serious health risks, especially for women and children.

Soy coalition: spotlight on the Netherlands' role in soy trade

The consequences of large-scale soy production, and the role of the Netherlands within it, were already gradually becoming clear in the 1980s, in the Netherlands and elsewhere. To combat the negative consequences of soy production, Both ENDS worked together with 15 other organisations in the Dutch Soy Coalition from 2003 to 2018.

Through the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands is an important transit country for soy. More than 8 million tons of soya arrived in the country in 2013, of which more than 7 million tons was re-exported. Most of the soy that remains in the Netherlands is used as cattle feed (more figures are available in the Soy Coalition's latest Soy Barometer 2014).

Sustainable soy in the Netherlands

One of the Soy Coalition's priority themes was promoting sustainable soy cultivation, e.g. certified by the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS). In 2011, the Dutch business community pledged to work towards 100% sustainable soy import by 2015. Although that led to a rise in sustainable soy from 7% in 2011 to 34% in 2015, it fell far short of the target. Nevertheless, the topic of sustainable soy has moved higher up the agenda.

Since 2018, Both ENDS has been strongly advocating an ambitious EU plan of action to combat deforestation caused by EU member states, e.g. by the import of soy and palm oil. In addition, we are working to achieve implementation of the Amsterdam Declarations, in which the Netherlands and 6 other European countries express their ambition towards deforestation-free commodities.

Infrastructure for soy: the soy corridor and a shipping canal

The infrastructure required to transport all that soy and other natural resources to markets, especially in Europe, also causes great damage. New roads through the Cerrado and the Amazon, not only for soy plantations but also for logging, mining and other economic activities, accelerate the process of deforestation. Here, too, the Netherlands plays a major role. It is involved, for example, in the "Corredor Norte" or soy corridor, a large infrastructural project in the north of Brazil intended to carry soy and other natural resources more quickly from the hinterland (the Amazon) to the ports. Both ENDS and our partners call on the Dutch government to put protecting the Amazon before national trade interests.

To the south of the Amazon, the Pantanal wetlands are also under threat from soy cultivation. Rivers are being converted to create a shipping canal, the Hidrovía Paraná-Paraguay, to transport soy more quickly and cheaply. The project is causing great damage to the ecosystem and to the living environment of people who depend on this for their survival. Both ENDS has been working with local partners and networks in the Pantanal for several decades to remove these plans from the table and promote sustainable alternatives.

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