Habitat conversion & soy | WWF

Habitat conversion & soy

Growing soybeans often means destroying large areas of natural habitat, packed with flora and fauna, to make way for agricultural land. This is true in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.

In Latin America, soybean cultivation has taken place at the expense of natural savannahs and tropical forests.
Soy farm in the Dry Forests is decreasing forest land. 
	© WWF/ Nick Cox
Soy farming in the Dry Forests is decreasing forest land.
© WWF/ Nick Cox

Impacts of associated development

As well as destroying habitats, soybean production in pristine areas also requires the construction of massive transportation and other infrastructure projects.

These developments unleash many indirect consequences, including opening up large, previously isolated environments to population migration and other land uses.

Damage done in Brazil

In Brazil, for example, plans are underway to build 8 industrial waterways, 3 railways, and an extensive network of highways. This infrastructure is not just used for soybeans.

Estimates suggest that this infrastructure may cause 6 times more collateral damage than that from soybean production alone, particularly in areas like the Amazon where isolation had previously limited development (Fearnside 2000).

Some soybean producers clear forests themselves. Others buy the land from small producers, often colonists, who have already cleared it. These same small producers then move on to clear more land.

Millions displaced

In Brazil, soybean cultivation displaces 11 agricultural workers for each one who finds employment in the sector. In the 1970s, soybean production displaced 2.5 million people in Paraná state and 0.3 million in Rio Grande do Sul.

Many of these people moved to the Amazon where they cleared pristine forests (Fearnside 2000). More recently, expansion in the Cerrado hasn’t led to the displacement of many people because the area wasn’t widely inhabited.

At high risk – savannahs and cerrados

In Brazil the savannahs and cerrados are most at risk. These areas have biodiversity that rivals equivalent areas of Amazonian forests, but only 1.5% of such lands are in federal reserves. Unfortunately, they can be easily converted into vast expanses of soybean fields.

This damages the land hugely. Agrochemicals are needed for soybeans to be financially viable. The soils often become so poor that within two years, virtually all nutrients have to come from lime and fertilizers. The soil ends up stripped of virtually all fertility and only serves to hold up the plants.


Extracts from "World Agriculture & Environment" (2004) by Jason Clay

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