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Amazon farmers grow grain and save the forest

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This project attempts to help farmers in the northern Amazon meet those legal requirements. It began three years ago after Greenpeace launched a Europe-wide campaign targeting McDonald's and Cargill as advocates of deforestation.

A two-year Greenpeace study said Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and the Bunge Corporation were actively encouraging farmers to deforest the Amazon and plant soy, which is a vital component in animal feed and one of Brazil's most lucrative exports.

"By providing everything from seeds and fertilizers to the transport and storage infrastructure needed to access global markets, these companies act as magnets drawing farmers into the Amazon," the report, "Eating Up the Amazon," stated. "They are not simply the drivers of soy agriculture, however, but key links in the chain of illegal construction, land theft, and forced labor that make Amazon soy so cheap for European consumers and so costly for everyone else."

Cargill was the worst offender of the three, the report stated, and so Greenpeace targeted them and McDonald's, who buy soy from Cargill to fatten chickens that became McNuggets.

McDonald's reacted almost immediately, telling Cargill that continued cooperation would depend on stricter environmental foresight. Cargill agreed to discuss the issue and the two parties called on the Nature Conservancy to help them decide what to do.

The resulting pilot program, funded by Cargill, takes place in the municipalities of Santarem and Belterra. Santarem borders the southern bank of the Amazon River, and its neighbor, Belterra, is a beautiful but denuded area of land made famous as the place where Henry Ford built a company town and vast rubber plantations in the 1930s.

The municipalities are far from the huge plantations that produce the overwhelming majority of Brazil's soy exports. But their links to Cargill – between 80 and 90 percent of producers in the area bring their soy to the port built and run by the company in Santarem – made it the ideal place to sow the first seeds of change. Cargill agreed to only buy soy from farmers who are complying with the 80/20 law or have agreed to take steps to come into compliance.

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