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Villanova University

Publication Date

Spring 2007

Program Name

Brazil: Amazon Resource Management and Human Ecology


This study examines the environmental and socio-economic effects of soy development in the city of Santarém, located in the western part of Pará state in the Brazilian Amazon. In the past decade the soybean has emerged as one of Santarém’s primary crops, largely as a result of Cargill Corporation’s construction of a fluvial port in the city that now exports one million tons of soy per year to European markets. The arrival of soy agribusiness in Santarém has transformed the agricultural scene and has had drastic impacts on both local communities and the forest. Surrounding the soy conflict are various interest groups all vying for power and for their own models of development. This paper analyzes the differing visions of “Sustainable Soy” models held by four primary groups of soy actors: regional government, agribusiness, grassroots actors, and environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs). Uncovering the various perspectives regarding sustainable development will allow a discussion of each actor’s role in the unfolding of conservation and social movements. It will be seen that government and agribusiness hold a similar vision of soy development that focuses on positive economic effects, while the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts on local communities are often ignored. Next, this study aims to interpret the history of the government-agribusiness relationship and examine government and agribusiness responses to growing market pressures for “Sustainable Soy.” The efforts and perspectives of ENGOs at work in Santarém must be studied in order to identify the ramifications of the push for sustainability among soy actors. In particular, the problem with most NGO value systems is that they place primary forest conservation as the sole focus of their efforts. While primary forest is undoubtedly important, many of these international ENGOs, like their government and agribusiness counterparts, often neglect to include the needs of the local community in their discourses. Finally, this study will identify spheres of grassroots resistance in the communities of Santarém, and demonstrate how grassroots perspectives and approaches to development are vastly different from those held by government, agribusiness, and ENGOs. These grassroots movements are acting by empowering local communities and spreading a discourse of sustainability that stands in stark contrast to both government-agribusiness discourses and the ENGO criteria for “Sustainable Soy”. However, these localized actors face complex and powerful globalized forces, and may lack the resources necessary to stop the destructive impacts of soy in Santarém. It is clear that a better relationship must develop between international conservation groups and local grassroots movements if we are to build a more progressive model of soy development.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Natural Resource Economics


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