Around two million hectares of wild forest lands – the equivalent of an area the size of Great Britain – could be destroyed to make way for soybean cultivation, a WWF-commissioned study has warned. The study, Managing the soy boom: two scenarios of soy production expansion in South America, also points out that this easily could be avoided if the soy was grown on existing pastures and alternated with cattle ranching, rather than at the expense of valuable natural habitats.

“The study shows that it is possible to achieve higher production of soy without destroying nature,” said Matthias Diemer, head of the WWF’s Forest Conversion Initiative. “The development of more intensive and efficient land us along existing roads and near important population centres will reduce the need to clear virgin habitats.”

Demand for soy is forecast to increase by 60 per cent in the next 20 years, which the report states would lead to the loss of an additional 16 million hectares of savannahs and approximately six million hectares of tropical forests. This would also threaten the survival of animals that are unique to the region, such as the anteater and the jaguar.

The report stresses that soy producers, investors, buyers and regulators must all work together to support, adopt and promote more sustainable practises in order for this scenario to be avoided.

Mr Diemer stated: “As soy is one of the most sought after vegetable crops in the world, it is crucial that consumers can eventually buy a product that does not contribute to the destruction of South America’s natural wealth.”

Soy plantations have already contributed to the near disappearance of the Atlantic Forest in South Brazil and Eastern Paraguay in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the report. The demand for soybeans is largely driven by the EU and China, where the crops are used to feed pigs, chickens and cattle.

By Jane Kettle

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