the emerging soybean production frontier in southern africa

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  • LETTER

    The Emerging Soybean Production Frontier in Southern Africa:Conservation Challenges and the Role of South-SouthTelecouplingsNestor Ignacio Gasparri1, Tobias Kuemmerle2, Patrick Meyfroidt3, Yann le Polain deWaroux4, & Holger Kreft5

    1 CONICET, Instituto de Ecologa Regional, Universidad Nacional de Tucuman, Tucuman, Argentina2 Geography Department, Humboldt-University Berlin. Integrative Research Institute on Transformations in Human-Environment Systems (IRITHESys)Humboldt-University, Berlin3 F.R.S.-FNRS, Brussels, Belgium & Universite Catholique de Louvain, Earth and Life Institute, Georges Lematre Centre for Earth and Climate Research,Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium4 Environmental Earth System Science & Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, 385 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94107, USA5 Biodiversity, Macroecology & Conservation Biogeography Group, University of Gottingen, Gottingen, Germany

    KeywordsAgribusiness; cattle; dry forest; land-use

    change; savannas; soybeans; telecoupling.

    CorrespondenceNestor Gasparri, CONICET, Instituto de Ecologa

    Regional, Universidad Nacional de Tucuman,

    CC34 CP4107. Yerba Buena, Tucuman,

    Argentina.

    Tel: +54-381-4255174; fax: +54-381-4255174.E-mail: ignacio.gasparri@conicet.gov.ar

    Received26 August 2014

    Accepted30 March 2015

    EditorLoyola Rafael

    doi: 10.1111/conl.12173

    Abstract

    Soybean expansion has been a strong driver of deforestation and biodiversityloss in South America (SAM). Here, we highlight strong similarities in envi-ronmental, institutional, and other contextual conditions among SAM andSouthern African (SAFR) dry forest and savanna regions, and compile ev-idence for an emerging soybean production frontier in SAFR. Knowledgetransfer, cooperation, and direct investment between SAM and SAFR coun-tries constitute crucial elements of soybean expansion in Africa. Comparingmaps of soybean suitability, biodiversity, and carbon revealed substantial andspatially diverse trade-offs, suggesting that the emerging soybean frontier inSAFR may poses major challenges for conservation. An increased focus ofconservation science on agricultural expansion and intensification in SAFR,as well as strong environmental policies for balancing agricultural productionand conservation goals, are needed to mitigate potentially large trade-offs. Thecoupling of production frontiers should be a vehicle for the transfer not onlyof agricultural technology and production models, but also of experiences inenvironmental governance on emerging agricultural frontiers.

    Introduction

    Land-use change is the main driver of the global biodiver-sity crisis due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and themany detrimental off-site effects of industrialized agricul-ture (Foley et al. 2005). Unless major changes in con-sumption materialize, agricultural production will haveto continue to increase (Kastner et al. 2012), either viaagricultural expansion or intensification. Both will fur-ther amplify land-use-related pressures on biodiversity(Leadley et al. 2010), particularly in the Global South thatharbors the majority of biodiversity, and most undevel-oped fertile lands (Lambin et al. 2013).

    Land-use change is increasingly driven by eco-nomic globalization (Lambin & Meyfroidt 2011), linking,

    social-ecological systems across large distances via trade,institutional cooperation, migrations, and other forms oftelecouplings (Liu et al. 2013). Conservation and landmanagement policies implemented in one region maythus lead to a displacement of land-use pressure (Lenzenet al. 2012; Meyfroidt et al. 2013) and understandingthese mechanisms is important for identifying effectiveconservation strategies (Grau et al. 2013). Telecouplingshave predominantly been conceptualized as linking de-veloped consumer and less-developed producer re-gions, through biomass flows (e.g., Kastner et al. 2014).The role of linkages among producer regions in develop-ing countries in driving land conversion remains largelyunexplored. These linkages may rely on material and cap-ital flows, but can also be established through institutions

    Conservation Letters, January/February 2016, 9(1), 2131 Copyright and Photocopying: C2015 The Authors. Conservation Letters published byWiley Periodicals, Inc. 21This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided theoriginal work is properly cited.

  • The emerging of soybean frontier in Southern Africa N.I. Gasparri et al.

    (e.g., bilateral agreements) and knowledge (e.g., technol-ogy transfer).

    Soybean is an archetypical telecouplings crop(Reenberg & Fenger 2011), mainly linked to globallyrising meat consumption (Kastner et al. 2012). SouthAmerica (SAM) has been a hotspot of soybean expan-sion, causing large-scale deforestation and biodiversityloss (Hecht 2005; Aide et al. 2013). Soybean productionfrontiers in SAM are also increasingly linked, as actorsincreasingly act across borders (Gasparri & le Polain deWaroux 2014). The expansion of soybean agribusinesshas occurred mostly in (sub)tropical dry forests andsavannas in the Amazon arc of deforestation, the Cer-rado, the Chaco, and Chiquitania (Grau & Aide 2008).These regions are rich in biodiversity and carbon, butare also characterized by a sparse protected area network(Leadley et al. 2010; Lehmann 2010). As a response to ris-ing conservation concerns, policies limiting deforestationhave recently been implemented in Brazil, Argentina,and Paraguay (Gasparri & le Polain de Waroux 2014),with mixed success (Nepstad et al. 2014). Meanwhile,global demand and soybean prices continue to surge, andfirms engaging in soybean production are increasinglytransnational. New soybean frontiers are thus likely todevelop.

    One candidate region for such an expansion isSouthern Africa1 (SAFR) (Figure S1): with large areas en-vironmentally similar to SAM soybean frontiers. Exten-sive areas of the Zambezi-Kalahari region were identifiedas equivalent to the dry Chaco (Baldi & Jobbagy 2013),one of the most dynamic soybean expansion frontiers(Gasparri et al. 2013). SAFRs soybean production poten-tial is increasingly highlighted (World Bank 2009; Sinclairet al. 2014), and soybean area, although still small, hasincreased four-fold between 2000 and 2013 (see below).Better understanding where and how soybean frontiersmay emerge in Africa is therefore essential to balance soy-bean production and biodiversity conservation.

    Here, we assess the potential for an emerging soybeanfrontier in dry forests and savannas in SAFR, and pro-vide evidence that this frontier is currently being enabled.We also assess the role of SAM countries in fostering thisfrontier via an emerging type of telecouplings thosebetween countries in the Global South. Specifically, wedemonstrate two key messages.

    (1) There is an emerging soybean production frontier inSAFR and it constitutes an environmental, but alsosocioeconomic and geopolitical concern.

    (2) To more sustainably govern these dynamics, SAFRsoybean expansion has to be understood as being in-fluenced by a south-south telecoupling with SAM.

    An emerging soybean frontier in SAFR

    Trends in soybean expansion and production

    Soybean cultivation area in SAFR increased exponen-tially, from 20,000 ha (early 1970s) to 150,000 ha (early1990s), and 750,000 ha in 2013 (Figure 1A). The cor-responding production rose from about 13,000 t (early1970s) to 260,000 t in 1990 and 1,248,000 t in 2013 (FAO2014). Although both soybean area and production arestill small compared to SAM, soybean expansion in SAFRafter 2000 occurred at markedly higher rates than SAMand global trends (Figure 1B).

    Demand for soybean products in SAFR is also increas-ing (Technoserve 2011). The Republic of South Africahas the largest market, with soybean imports (mainlyfrom Argentina) approaching $700 million in 2011 (FAO2014). Projections of future demand suggest a reinforce-ment of this trend (Technoserve 2011). This unsatisfieddemand creates a favorable context for increasing soy-bean production, and the recent exponential growth inAfrica has mainly taken place in the Republic of SouthAfrica (Figures 1D and F). Other SAFR states, includ-ing Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe,Malawi, Rwanda, and Burundi have also experiencedsizeable soybean expansions.

    Potential for soybean expansionand conservation concerns

    The potential for soybean cultivation in SAFR remainslargely uncertain. We used global data sets of agronomicsuitability for soybeans, carbon storage, and biodiver-sity to explore the potential for soybean expansionin SAFR and its environmental trade-offs (detailedmethods and results in Supplementary Material 1). Over365 Mha are considered having good to very high suit-ability for soybean and 195 Mha have medium to mod-erate suitability (Figure 2). SAFR contains about 49 Mhaof cropland/natural vegetation mosaics, 128 Mha offorests, and 70 Mha of forest-shrub mosaics, which areunprotected and highly suitable for soybean (respec-tively, 144, 29, and 83 Mha for SAM, Figure S3). Thissuggests that the soybean potential in SAFRs savannasand dry forest biomes is large and of the same magnitudeas in SAM. Humid tropical forests in SAFR are a highconservation priority, but dry forests, savannas, andgrasslands have received comparatively little attention(Lehmann 2010; Parr et al. 2014).

    Dry biomes also provide crucial resources for ru-ral livelihoods (Shackleton et al. 2007; Chidumayo andGumbo, 2010). Among the land highly suitable forsoybean, 14% were covered by mosaics of cropland and

    22 Conservation Letters, January/February 2016, 9(1), 2131 Copyright and Photocopying: C2015 The Authors. Conservation Letters published byWiley Pe

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