Our work in Brazil

Cattle, soy, and deforestation

Cattle is the immediate driver of deforestation for 80% of deforestation and carbon loss across South America, with much of this concentrated in Brazil. The Brazilian Amazon is the region with the largest absolute area of tropical deforestation globally and is also the largest exporter of beef and leather products worldwide. More than 70% of deforested areas in the Brazilian Amazon have been converted to pasture for beef cattle. Some of these areas are eventually converted to cropland, but pasture expansion remains by far the largest proximate cause of forest loss in the region. The Cerrado region, in turn, is affected by both pasture and soy expansion. Here, direct conversion for soy accounted for 16–32% of annual clearing between 2003 and 2014.

Zero Deforestation Agreements in cattle and soy in Brazil

The Brazilian cattle sector has two widespread and longstanding ZDCs. The first, known as the G4 cattle agreement, was signed in 2009 by the four largest cattle companies in the Brazilian Amazon and Greenpeace. In the same year the Brazilian federal public prosecutor’s office (MPF) begun to sign legally binding commitments (known as TACs) with cattle-buying companies linked to deforestation. These commitments followed the 2004 Soy Moratorium, a ZDC governing deforestation in the Brazilian soy sector.

Currently TAC and G4 collectively cover over 75% of federally inspected, high-volume slaughterhouses in the Legal Amazon. This is an extremely high regional market penetration relative to ZDCs in other sectors or regions globally, although the incomplete coverage presents opportunities to avoid ZDCs. The rapid expansion of the two commitments’ market coverage, and the spatial variation in this coverage across municipalities in the Legal Amazon, offer a unique opportunity to empirically investigate the importance of market share in determining the effectiveness of sustainable supply chain policies. We are further interested in how farmers’ livelihood outcomes are influenced by changes in access to ZDC companies and markets.

Research approach

Understanding the effects of ZDCs requires the synthesis of supply chain data and land use data. The former is used to determine where ZDC policies are implemented by identifying where committed and non-committed companies are sourcing from and in what quantities. The latter is used to identify deforestation and its drivers.  By linking the two it is possible to determine how company sourcing behaviour affects deforestation trajectories on the ground. Understanding the social impacts of ZDCs additionally requires socioeconomic data about the people in the sourcing region (both those participating and not-participating in ZDC supply chains). The specific data sources used depend on the question being answered and the scale of analysis. We draw, inter alia, on animal transportation records, the Brazilian rural land registry, satellite imagery, supply chain interviews as well as multiple rounds of producer-level data collected in the Brazilian state of Pará.

Our work on ZDCs in Brazil is supported by the US National Science Foundation, the European Research Council, and ETH Zurich’s World Food System Centre’s Fond Welternährungssystem. We partner with EMBRAPA, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, as well as colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. See more information on our full team here!

News and insights from the Brazil team

EPL research featured in Swiss news

27.01.21 The fieldwork done by the EPL Brazil team, as well as first insights on reasons why deforestation in Brazil continues despite corporate zero-deforestation commitments, was featured on major Swiss news platform Swissinfo.ch under the title “Why is the Amazon still at risk despite ‘zero deforestation’ commitments?”. Read the article here!

EPL method highlighted on WFSC website

02.09.20 EPL’s multi-method assessment approach that connects social and ecological data across many scales was featured on ETH Zurich’s World Food System Center’s website under the title “Conserving tropical forests using cutting edge research”. Read the article here!

Successful field campaign 2

31.01.20 In January 2020, Federico Cammelli returned to the field with funding support from the World Food System Center‘s Fonds Welternährungssystem, which allowed him to interview over 40 supply chain members and experts, tracing ZDC implementation from the slaughterhouse all the way down to the farm level.

Successful field campaign 1

31.12.19 EPL team members Sam Levy and postdoc Federico Cammelli brought to a close a successful field campaign. Together with a team of enumerators, they collected surveys of socio-economic characteristics and production behavior of more than 360 cattle and soy-producing properties in the state of Pará, covering an area of over 1 million ha.

Impressions from the field