Agricultural Imports from Brazil Are Fuelling Ecological Destruction and Conflicts

Scientists from the EU and Indigenous groups in Brazil have sent an open letter to the European Commission calling for environmental impact and human rights to be a priority in ongoing trade negotiations with Brazil. The task of ensuring sustainable trade has become even more urgent with Brazil’s new administration. Co-initiated by scientists from the Geography Department at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), the petition has now been signed by more than 600 scientists from every country of the European Union as well as 300 Brazilian Indigenous groups.

In an article published in Science on 25 April 2019, the lead authors outline the goals of the petition and call for swift action from European policy makers. The authors provide three recommendations to assist the European Commission as it works to improve the sustainability of commodity imports. Along with respecting human rights and consistently tracing the origins of agricultural imports, a participatory process that includes Indigenous Peoples, local communities, policy makers and scientists also needs to be introduced.

The EU is one of the leading importers of agricultural goods worldwide. Between 1990 and 2008, EU imports led globally to deforestation equivalent to the size of Portugal. Despite the importance of Brazil’s rainforests for the climate and for global biodiversity, the EU imported over 2 billion Euros worth of soybeans as livestock feed from Brazil in 2017, with no way of determining whether the beans had been grown on deforested land or were associated with Indigenous rights conflicts. In 2011 alone, the import of beef and soy from Brazil to the EU was linked to the deforestation of an area larger than 300 football fields every day.

‘Brazil still harbours vast areas of forests and savannahs that are of huge importance globally’, explains Tobias Kuemmerle, Professor for Biogeography at HU and a co-author of the letter. ‘Deforestation threatens many species that only occur there, it releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming, and deforestation threatens the livelihoods of indigenous people.’

‘We want the EU to stop importing deforestation and instead become a world leader in sustainable trade’, says lead author Dr. Laura Kehoe, who did her PhD at the Geography Department of HU and is now a researcher at the University of Oxford studying how meat consumption can drive deforestation. ‘We protect forests and human rights at home, why do we have different rules for our imports?’

‘Europe is complicit with the crimes committed in name of agricultural production’, states Sônia Guajajara, the leader of Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation, which represents more than 300 Brazilian Indigenous groups and has co-signed the letter. ‘Europe and other consumer markets in the world need to learn how to use their consumption power to make sure our traditional rights are respected and to promote the preservation of forests.’

contact for scientific information:
Dr. Laura Kehoe, University of Oxford, UK
Email:, Phone: +52 1 473 180 8881

Thiago Reis, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium
Email:, Phone: +32 486 453 931

Dr. Malika Virah-Sawmy, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Email:, Phone: +1 515 5946 1529

Professor Dr. Tobias Kümmerle, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Email:, Phone: +49 30 2093 9372

original publication:

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