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November 6, 2020

Soybeans are Not a Major Contributor to Fires in Brazilian Amazon

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

During the most recent dry season in Brazil (May through September), there was a lot of attention directed to the fires in the Amazon Region of Brazil. Many commentaries attributed the fires in part to increased soybean production in the region, but that is not born out by the facts.

The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove) completed their second evaluation of the amount of soybeans grown in the Amazon Biome of Brazil and if there was any association between soybean production and fires in the region.

The study looked at the 15 municipalities in the Brazilian Amazon Biome that recorded the most fires between January and September of 2020. In those 15 municipalities there were 209,000 hectares of soybeans grown in 2020/21, which represented 0.24% of the land area of those municipalities.

The study included data from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Studies (INPE) and the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) which indicated that soybeans were grown in only five of those 15 municipalities.

The Brazilian soybean acreage in 2019/20 totaled 36 million hectares with 5.2 million hectares located within the Amazon Biome. Therefore the 209,000 hectares located within the five municipalities where fires were recorded represented only 4% of the soybeans grown in the Amazon Biome. The vast majority of soybeans grown in the Amazon Biome are grown on land that was cleared decades ago.

In the six municipalities with the most fires, there are no soybeans grown because there is no infrastructure for soybean production and the soil and climate do not favor soybean production.

Since 2006, there has been in place a Soybean Moratorium where the grain companies refused to purchase any soybeans that may have been produced on land that was cleared illegally. The moratorium was a collaborative effort between the international grain companies, environment groups, and government officials as a way to blunt the criticism that soybean production was contributing to deforestation and burning in the Brazilian Amazon.

The reality is that soybean and corn production play only a minuscule role in deforestation and fires. The vast majority of the deforestation is the result of the expansion of cattle ranching and small family farmers clearing patches of land, most of which is illegal. Many of the fires in fact are caused by ranchers burring off their dry pastures before the onset of the summer rainy season.