MATOPIBA: Brazil’s soy frontier

Until quite recently, few would have associated Brazil’s MATOPIBA region with soy. Found at the intersection of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia states, more than 90% of MATOPIBA lies within the Cerrado — recognised as the world’s most biodiverse savannah. However, it is also now the main soy frontier in Brazil.

As a result, the Cerrado is being lost at an alarming rate due to land conversion for soy farming. Currently only 55% of its native vegetation remains.

MATOPIBA and the whole of the Cerrado are now at a crossroads. The decisions made now over land-use could ensure the region’s ecological integrity for decades to come.

Knowing who is buying the soy produced in MATOPIBA is a pivotal step towards slowing the destruction of the Cerrado. Trase provides this knowledge whilst allowing soy buyers and local governments to assess the social and environmental risks associated with soy production.

Drawing on our latest Trase infobrief, Who is buying soy from MATOPIBA?, this blog examines the soy trade in the region between 2010 and 2015.

Growth in exports

Soy production in MATOPIBA almost doubled from 5.6 million tonnes in 2010 to 10.4 million tonnes in 2015. Much of this production was exported, with around two-thirds of the soy produced in MATOPIBA from 2010 to 2015 going to international markets. Soy exports from the area of Piaui in MATOPIBA alone increased 16-fold in this period.

Figure 1: Increase in soy exports from the top eight producing municipalities in the area of MATOPIBA covered by Piauí state.

Growth in number of traders

The expansion of soy for export in the region can also be seen in the sudden and rapid entrance of new soy traders into MATOPIBA — the number of traders operating in MATOPIBA tripled between 2010 and 2015.

Only five traders were present throughout the six-year period, with ‘new entrants’ accounting for the rest of the trade. Five of these new entrants (Figure 2) accounted for 59% of MATOPIBA’s growth in soy exports across the period.

Figure 2: Proportion of soy exports from MATOPIBA accounted for by new entrants, with the five responsible for 60% of growth also shown.

The growing role of China

Around two-thirds of the soy produced in MATOPIBA from 2010 to 2015 went to international markets, with the proportion exported increasing over the period.

Almost two-thirds of exports from the five new entrants that accounted for 59% of growth (Figure 2) went to the emerging Chinese market. For four of these five traders, exports to China accounted for a large majority — over 65% — of their total Brazilian soy exports in the period (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Destinations of soy exports from MATOPIBA by the five new entrants that accounted for 59% of the growth in MATOPIBA


As a result, China is now the primary destination for soy exports from MATOPIBA. Exports to China increased five-fold during the period (Figure 4), while exports to other major markets remained relatively constant. China’s market share of the soy exports from MATOPIBA increased from 22% in 2010 to 57% by 2015 (see pie charts).

Figure 4: Soy exports from MATOPIBA to the top four countries in each year in terms of volume. Pie charts shows the market share of China in 2010 vs 2015


The extent of the agricultural expansion that has occurred in MATOPIBA is clear and Trase data makes it possible to see who is buying the soy produced in this area.

By including social and environmental indicators at the municipality level, Trase allows soy buyers, and local governments to appreciate the social and environmental risks associated with soy production, and identify opportunities for more sustainable soy production.


Article by Rowland Williams, Intern at Global Canopy


Who is buying soy from MATOPIBA?

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