Project February 17, 2020

High Stakes: China in the Amazon


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.