Tesco and M&S likely to have soy linked to deforestation in supply chains
EXCERPT: The Gran Chaco’s unique environmental value has not stopped soya-dependent Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia from allowing the expansion of agriculture in this virgin forest. All three are heavily dependent on the genetically modified “green gold”.
Home to the screaming hairy armadillo: the forest the world forgot
The Guardian, 5 Oct 2019
* The deforestation of the Gran Chaco is dangerously overshadowed by its neighbour, the Amazon
* Tesco and M&S likely to have soya linked to deforestation in supply chains
* Home to the screaming hairy armadillo: the forest the world forgot
Somehow the Gran Chaco has remained off the world’s radar, its endless expanse of dry woodland overshadowed by the nearby superstar of forests – the Amazon.
Covering a vast area one and a half times the size of California – half in Argentina, a third in Paraguay and the remainder in Bolivia – the gargantuan scale of the Chaco tells only part of the story.
“The Chaco knocks it out of the park in terms of biodiversity,” says Etelle Higonnet, from the Washington DC environmental group Mighty Earth. The forest shelters an astounding array of unique wildlife: 3,400 plant species, 500 bird species, 150 mammals, 120 reptiles and 100 amphibians. Rare giant anteaters, the screaming hairy armadillo, tapirs and toucans are all under threat.
But it is the yaguareté, the South American jaguar, that is most endangered. Although the likeness of a spotted yaguareté adorns Argentina’s 500-peso bill, there are only 250 examples of this magnificent carnivore still on the prowl in the country today.
“The Gran Chaco is one of the world’s largest and most threatened forests but it hasn’t had the attention it deserves,” says Nathalie Walker, of the US-based National Wildlife Federation. “With the Amazon you already have the idea of a dense tropical rainforest with parrots, monkeys and lianas [vines], whereas the Chaco doesn’t have that jungle allure. It’s a dry subtropical forest with a woody savannah eco-tone. It’s not as sexy and harder to characterise.”
Its deforestation rate, however, is one of the highest in the world. According to Nasa’s Earth Observatory, 20% of the Gran Chaco’s forest, 55,000 square miles – an area larger than England – was lost between 1985 and 2016.
The massive clearings can be seen in satellite images on various specialised websites, including the Maryland-based Global Forest Watch. Its time-lapse images for northern Argentina, Paraguay and southern Bolivia illustrate the harrowing reality of the Gran Chaco: the sea of green forest still existent in 2001 is shown being slowly devoured by the rapidly multiplying red rectangles of deforestation, with the greatest loss occurring in Argentina in recent years.
“Unlike the ‘fishbone’ pattern of deforestation in the Amazon [where land is cleared by small farmers in a haphazard fishbone pattern branching out from the spine of legal and illegal roads], deforestation in the Gran Chaco tends to leave large rectangular clearings,” Nasa’s Earth Observatory concluded after studying satellite imagery of Boquerón, Paraguay’s main cattle-raising department. The same pattern is observed in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.
Production in the Gran Chaco is far more industrialised than in the Amazon. “In the Gran Chaco the majority of the land is leased to large conglomerates who send in their machinery only when they plant and then again for the harvest, but there’s hardly any human contact with the land in the time between,” says Daniel Meyer, a Brazil-based member of the environmental NGO Global Canopy. “The leasing of land to the large soy conglomerates is not so widespread in Brazil.”
The Gran Chaco’s unique environmental value has not stopped soya-dependent Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia from allowing the expansion of agriculture in this virgin forest. All three are heavily dependent on the genetically modified “green gold”.
Soya is Argentina’s biggest foreign currency earner, comprising more than 25% of the country’s exports. They are about 10% of Bolivia’s international outgoing trade, while in Paraguay, soya beans, soya bean meal and soya bean oil account for more than half of the country’s exports.
The lack of international awareness of the plight of Gran Chaco, coupled with the dependence of Argentina and Paraguay on the income from soya exports to sustain their perennially troubled economies, has allowed large agro-business companies to operate without the same kind of scrutiny those same companies face in the Amazon.
“We are witnessing the destruction of one of our most valuable ecosystems: native forests,” says Natalia Machain, the head of Greenpeace Argentina. The organisation is waging a forceful campaign to stop deforestation in Argentina’s Gran Chaco. “Over 3m hectares [12,000 square miles] of El Impenetrable [national park] are in danger. Soya and intensive livestock farming are progressing uncontrollably and often illegally over protected areas with the complicity of government officials.”
“The destruction of the Chaco in Paraguay is the first major environmental disaster of the 21st century,” says John Andrew Burton, founder of the World Land Trust. “The Gran Chaco is one of the world’s last remaining great wildernesses.”