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article imageEating the Amazon - demand for cheap meat fuels deforestation Special

By Lynn Morris     Dec 9, 2010 in Environment
Europe’s demand for cheap meat is dramatically changing the landscape of the Amazon.
Rainforest around Santarém has been replaced with fields over the last five years thanks to the advent of soya farming in the area.
Huge multinational Cargill built a port on the Amazon at Santarém to export soya to Europe where the grains are converted into feed for chickens and other farm animals.
Cargill presents an insatiable demand so farmers from soya growing areas like Matto Grosso moved to Santarém to be nearer the port taking advantage of reduced transport costs. This influx of outsiders had lead to conflict with local people.
Farmer Luis Pereira Machado, 61, sells all his crop to Cargill, usually before it is harvested. He said: “The more you have the more they want.” He moved to the area from Matto Grosso but does not feel welcome near Santarém.
Soya farmer Luis Pereira Machado
Soya farmer Luis Pereira Machado
Aside from cultural conflicts, there are many environmental problems associated with soya farming. Environmentalists are furious because of the deforestation caused by soya farming. They claim pesticides and fertilizers from soya farms damage the ecosystems of creeks and rivers. They also argue that the wakes from big ships damage the riverbanks.
Others complain about the lack of employment for local people. Soya farming is largely mechanized and Cargill’s port only employs 60 people because nothing is processed in Santarém, soya is just stored and then exported.
There are also concerns, well documented by Greenpeace in a report called Eating Up The Amazon, that soya farmers acquired land in illegal or irregular ways and in some cases use slave labour for clearing the forest. According to Greenpeace, it is these illegal activities that subsidise the price of meat in Europe.
Cargill s grain terminal at Santarem  Brazil
Cargill's grain terminal at Santarem, Brazil
Steven Fairbairn, Head of External Communication, for Cargill said in an email: “Cargill’s investment and presence in Santarém is helping generate economic activity in an area which has long experienced widespread poverty, high unemployment and a lack of sustainable economic and social development. However it is wrong to suggest that our presence has directly resulted in an increase in local soya production.”
He added that Cargill has signed a commitment not to purchase soya from land deforested in the Amazon since July 2006. He said Cargill supports the Brazilian government’s campaign to eradicated abusive labour practices.
He said: “While all the participants recognize there is still work to be done, we are committed to working with them to ensure more sustainable soya production.”
The problems of soya farming in the Amazon look set to increase. Most of the soya exported from Santarém comes from Matto Grosso by barge. Some soya is brought in trucks along the Br163 from Matto Grosso. This road is in the process of being paved which environmentalists say will lead to more deforestation along its length and more soya farmers moving to the area.
Soya fields in the Amazon
Soya fields in the Amazon
Next year Erai Maggi Scheffer, the world’s largest soya producer, will be building a bulk terminal in Santarém. The terminal will have five silos and will export soya, cotton, maize and meat. Cargill is also reported to be increasing operations at Santarém.
Amazonian ecologist Gil Serique said: “It seems to be very easy to make money selling soya beans. I am sure there is going to be an explosion of soya around Santarém.”
Cargill s port by night
Cargill's port by night
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