A group of 23 major food and commodity producers, including McDonald’s, Nestlé, Unilever, have signed a manifesto calling for the Brazilian agri sector, particularly soya and cattle producers, to stop the conversion of the Cerrado savannah into farmland.

The manifesto, signed on 25 October during the fourth roadshow on Brazilian soya sustainability, was based on a call to action by more than 50 organisations – including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) – published on 11 September, Sustainable Brands wrote on 25 October.

According to the manifesto, the size of the Cerrado – the world’s most biodiverse savannah – had diminished by up to a half, with 18,962km2 of land cleared for agriculture between 2013 and 2015.

Agriculture was the main culprit in land coversion, as between 2007 and 2014, 26% of agricultural expansion in the Cerrado occurred directly in area of native vegetation.

The destruction of the Cerrado could result not only in a mass extinction of species, the manifesto warned, but could also make it more challenging for Brazil to meet its climate goals, as the Cerrado stored 13.7bn tonnes of CO2­­.

“It is unnecessary for the livestock and agriculture sectors to continue expanding into natural habitats in the Cerrado, especially considering there are around 40M ha already cleared in Brazil suitable for cultivating soya,” the manifesto read.

It called for Brazil’s agri sector to follow the example of the Amazon Soy Moratorium, which has helped reduce soya cultivation’s contribution to deforestation in the Amazon to less than 1%.

The Moratorium had shown that it was possible to produce commodities while avoiding supply chains directly associated with further conversion of natural ecosystems, the organisations claimed.

However, Fabio Trigueirinho, general secretary of Brazil’s vegetable oil industry association ABIOVE, told Oils & Fats International that work had already begun to change farming methods and help preserve the region.

“The amount of land that is converted has reduced sharply. It has fallen from more than 60,000km2 in 2001-2002 to 18,926km2 in 2014-2015, a reduction of more than 68%,” Trigueirinho said in an interview on 23 October. “We’re working differently now.”