Environmental & social impacts of soy

As soybean agriculture sweeps across South America and elsewhere, fragile ecosystems such as rainforests and savannahs are feeling the strain, as are species like the jaguar and giant anteater.

In some cases, smallholders growing crops for subsistence have been displaced by the expansion of soybean plantations.
 / ©: James W. Thorsell / WWF

From biodiverse areas to monocultures

Conversion of High Conservation Value Areas and other critical habitats for soybean cultivation is unacceptable as it threatens biodiversity, endangered species and the livelihoods of local people.

The climate connection

The expansion of soybean plantations into forests also contributes to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for about 15% of all the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by people.

Conversion of forests to soy plantations in the Amazon particularly threatens the climate. The Amazon’s forests contain 90-140 billion tonnes of carbon—that’s 9-14 years of current global, annual, human-induced carbon emissions.

Dangerous runoff

Soil erosion and environmental impacts from the ever increasing use of pesticides are also a growing problem where soybeans are grown.

Runoff from soy production can carry substantial levels of agrochemicals, suspended soil and organic matter. This is a major source of freshwater and groundwater contamination, which can have serious impacts on the health of people and wildlife.

Communities and workers at risk

Lucrative soybean production can have negative social impacts in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The concentration of farmland in the hands of a few has pushed small farmers and communities off the land and encouraged exploitation of workers.
The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture projects an expansion of soy plantations from 21.5 million hectares to 26.5 million hectares by the crop year 2018/2019.

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