Minnesota-based agricultural giant Cargill vows to end deforestation in its supply chain. It’s just unclear how long they'll take to do it.
Cargill, which trades in agricultural commodities like soybeans, buys from farmers all over the world, including the ones razing forests to make way for farm fields. This is especially troubling in Brazil, simultaneously the world’s top exporter of soybeans and home to most of the Amazon rainforest. Slash-and-burn farming in Brazil has already destroyed a fifth of the Amazon. Last year, it contributed to wildfires that consumed 2.2 million acres.
In 2014, Cargill signed on to the United Nations' New York Declaration on Forests, pledging to stop purchasing products grown on deforested land by the end of 2020. That deadline is just around the corner, and the company’s not going to make it. Last year, after receiving corporate sustainability awards and conciliatory praise from environmental groups, Cargill announced it would actually give itself until 2030 to stop sourcing from deforesters. By then, more than half of the Amazon would be lost, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
In addition to farms in the Amazon, Cargill also buys soy from farmers who are rapidly clearing another massive Brazilian biome of woodlands and savannah called the Cerrado, which has already been reduced by half. In 2017, dozens of Brazilian and international brands signed an agreement, the Cerrado Manifesto, to halt deforestation in the region.
Cargill opposes the Cerrado Manifesto, stating in a letter to soy producers last summer that honoring any moratorium against deforestation would harm Brazilian farmers who depend on soy for their livelihoods. Instead, Cargill pledged $30 million to find a solution that would save the carbon-sequestering natural resources without upending farm economies abroad.
But activists say the reluctance of America’s largest privately owned company to divorce itself from deforestation shows it’s just buying time -- time the world doesn’t have, if we want to resist the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
About 30 protesters organized by environmental group Mighty Earth descended on Cargill CEO David MacLennon’s house in Edina on Wednesday evening. There were no signs that MacLennon was there, but his neighbors came out to watch as the group blocked the sidewalk in front of the home and sang chants accusing Cargill of “ecocide.”
“While Brazilian politicians allow for the deforestation of the Amazon forest, which acts as the world’s largest carbon sink, that does not mean large agriculture businesses should exploit such precious and essential resources that has devastating effects on the climate crisis,” said Abby Hornberger, a University of Minnesota environmental science student.
“The world’s forests act as the earth’s lungs, providing clear air and carbon storage in the soil within root systems. Cutting down our global lungs is an inexcusable, unsustainable decision that does not prepare for humanity’s existence on this planet into the future.”
Tuesday’s protest was the first time Mighty Earth activists brought their frustrations to MacLennon’s house.
Mighty Earth published a report last year calling Cargill “the worst company in the world.” It connects Cargill to environmental degradation from soy farming in South America and rubber and palm oil production Southeast Asia, as well as child slavery on cocoa farms in West Africa.