China's demand for meat—for food security—drives deforestation in Brazil. As the world’s largest consumer of soy, China's hunger has fueled a fight over land use in the Amazon, where much of soy is grown, accelerating the loss of biodiversity and contributing to the global climate emergency. For a country that has pledged to honor the Paris agreement, Beijing’s food security policy runs counter to its environmental efforts. Journalists Melissa Chan and Heriberto Araújo have reported extensively on China's impact beyond its borders. This time, they journey to the Amazon for a closer look. A weakly regulated region, soy farmers and cattle ranchers have encroached on indigenous and protected areas here for years. Under Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, this process has accelerated the climate emergency. All eyes are now on a game-changing project: the Chinese-backed Ferrogrão railroad, part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative that would transform Brazil’s soy industry by connecting its interior to the Amazonian waterways. Such a link, which would cut through some of the most pristine forests on earth, would pull Brazil ahead of its main competitor in the global soy market—the United States—but at what cost? Chan and Araújo meet indigenous leaders, fishing communities, environmental activists, and soy producers to learn more.
Soy and agriculture have helped a small city in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso prosper economically—to the point that the per capita income is 40% higher than the national average.
The Brazilian city Sinop embodies the aspirations of a prosperous Amazonian agro-industry — especially now, with the prospect of a railroad that will help send exports to China.
With Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on a ‘mission from God’ to settle the Amazon and carve it up for economic gain, Beijing’s growing reliance on the country for its soybean supply spells disaster for the region’s peoples and its rainforests.
Brazilians who've migrated to the Amazon for economic prosperity rarely consider environmental preservation, whether in the early frontier period or in Bolsonaro’s era.