Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Soya beans and wildlife

Being an environmentally friendly conservationist is not easy these days. And those who also try and live it as vegetarians have an even harder time. This is because what at first appear to be simple decisions, end up being complcated and often contradictory. Organic food, often comes with masses of airmiles attached, and fair trade often displaces British producers. And then there is the humble SOYA BEAN 0r soybean.

Over the past few decades there has been a massive increase in the worldwide production of soya bean. Millions (yes tens of millions) of acres of land have been converted into soyabean growing plantations. And much of this has been land that was until recently unploughed, wilderness full of wildlife. In 1961 there were a mere quarter of a million hectares (2,500 sq kms) of soyabean in the whole of Brazil, according to FAO statistics. But by 2005 there were 229,000 square kilometres(nearly 55 million acres) in production -- that's an area not much smaller than the United Kingdom. And in South America as a whole, there were some 400,000 square kilometres -- nearly the size of California, and larger than Finland. In 1961 there were a mere 1300 hectares of Soya bean in Paraguay, but by 2005 this had leapt to nearly 2 million hectares, much of it from ploughing up the chaco and other undisturbed habitats. And in Argentina, much the same story, with less than 1000 hectares in 1961, jumping over 14 million in 2005.

Flying up the Paraguay River last year to visit the area the WLT is helping Guyra Paraguay to purchase and protect, I could see the impact of soya bean. The Brazilian side of the border was much more intensively farmed, bearing witness to the pressure on the wild chaco of Paraguay. At least the lands were are helping buy will be spared that fate.

And it is us in the northern hemisphere, with our new-fangled quest for 'healthy living' that are behind this massive destruction of the rainforest and other habitats for soya beans.

Eat locally; think globally.


  1. Hmm... I was under the impression that nearly all of the soya produced in these fields were used to feed cattle and other livestock. In other words, 'healthy living' persons, vegetarians etc. are hardly to blame for the destruction of rainforest for soya farming - it's the increasing demand for meat.

    That's not to say that one shouldn't be aware of the issue and avoid buying soya products made from soya beans grown in the tropics, of course.

  2. Most soya beans do end up in cattle - it taks about 12kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef. But its not just Soya that results in rainforest destruction - Palm oil (which is in everything from crisps to chocolate to soap) is fueling destruction in Indonesia - FoE were running a campaign on this http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/corporates/press_for_change/palm_oil/index.html

    although I think its taken a bit of a back seat at the moment..

  3. Yes this is right, much of the soya does end up as animal feed, oils etc., but most organic soya is, I think, grown for human food.

  4. hmmm I did not know cattle ate soya beans! Interesting - but is the country most to blame for environmental damage and lack of control including soya bean production - is China!! Only recently a soya factory employing over a 1,000 workers was closed due to its waste damaging the environment - there are SO many to bame no one knows where to place the spotlight.
    I need soya as I am allergic (not intolerant but allergic) to dairy, without which there would be no calcium in my diet.The debate is endless.

  5. The figures quoted above show an increase of 9,100 % in Brazil and 150,000 % in Paraguay. I don't believe that this can be due to the world as a whole eating more beef. It is surley more to do with vegetarian products and the need for soya oil in processed foods (veggie and non veggie alike).

  6. I may only be in school but it shocked me when i was in class, and it turned out kfc was doing allot of this destruction. they are growing soya beans, and using them for chicken feed! it sickens me!

  7. Can anyone tell me how I can find out which brand of soya milk is the most environmentally-friendly or the best non-dairy alternative to it?

  8. Alpro are certainly a company mareketting organic soya milk, and I have recently visited Brazil where active steps are being made to reduce the environmental impacts. An earlier comment about the Chinese market is right on target. Unfortunatekly the soya giants, such as Cargill, seem to have an ever increasing demand for more and more land for soya. But as has been pointed out, it is the overseas demand that fuels the habitat destruction.