Soya, Amazon destruction and climate change – a perspective from Brazil

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The UKFG meeting on Soya, Amazon destruction and climate change – a perspective from Brazil, attended by more than 50 people, was the chance to hear the dynamic Father Edilberto Sena, both a Roman Catholic priest – influenced by Liberation Theology – and a campaigner who is seeking to defend Amazonia against land-grabbers, loggers, ranchers and agribusiness multinationals.

“We are small and we are fighting multinationals like Cargill – people who are using soya as a commodity. But I’m sure there are at least 200,000 Amazonians listening to my broadcast. Our objective is to educate the people, provide critical and objective news.”

Fr. Edilberto Sena is in particular well known for his opposition to the Cargill Corporation’s construction of a ‘port’ in the city of Santarem, Para, for storing and exporting soya to Northern Europe (Britain, Netherlands and France etc) and China for animal feed – soya grown by destroying the rain forest. This presentation was the opportunity for him to tell us more about the fight he has been engaged in since 2001 against a type of soya production and distribution that is socially, environmentally and economically unsustainable. In 2007, the Brazilian government forced Cargill to close the port down but the final decision now awaits a public hearing.

Soya cultivation, almost entirely for animal feed, has emerged as a leading threat to global biodiversity. In Brazil alone soya, much of it genetically modified and heavily treated with the herbicide RoundUp, is cultivated on an area the size of Great Britain. This has devastated natural vegetation, threatened local livelihoods by displacing hundreds of small farmers, and weakened the production of staple food crops in the region.

With global demand for soya rapidly increasing due to growing demand for agrofuels and animal feed, and the limited area available for expansion on existing land, soya plantations are leading the expansion of agriculture into the forests and grasslands in Brazil and other countries. However, Fr. Edilberto Sena stressed that the Amazon faced not one but five main threats: large scale soya farmers, loggers, cattle ranchers, mineral companies (gold, bauxite, iron, manganese…) and the Brazilian government. Fr. Edilberto Sena includes the Brazilian government, which he used to enthusiastically support, because of its decision to build hydro-electric dams in the Amazon region. This decision is highly controversial both inside and outside government. This led Sue Branford to say that the Amazon was suffering from a double whammy: it is affected by climate change and its destruction is reinforcing climate change.

Asked for his views on ‘sustainable soya’, Fr. Edilberto Sena retorted: “how can soya production be “sustainable” when it has already destroyed the forest and the (sustainable) production systems of the native indigenous peoples?” He added that some call for soya to be planted ‘responsibly’; then there should be an absolute limit of maybe 100ha plots, farmed agroecologically, and set within the forest landscape.

And when asked “What can we do?” by Sue Branford, Fr. Edilberto Sena replied “I would like to say two things to European consumers with a conscience: first, you should know that the meat you eat is fed by our Amazon rainforest, so eat less of it; second, put pressure on your government to tackle the big soya exporters” in order to save the Amazon rainforest, its peoples and help stabilise the climate.


UK Food Group Submission to the White Paper “Securing Our Common Future” submission
Father Edilberto Sena Presentation slides


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