A Call for Deforestation-Free Agriculture

What do cattle, soy, and palm oil have in common? These are all products associated with commodity-linked deforestation. Between 2000 and 2012, expansion of commercial agriculture and timber plantations caused the destruction of more than 50 million hectares of tropical forests. The UNFCCC website states: “Roughly a third of recent tropical deforestation and associated carbon emissions (3.9 Mha and 1.7 GtCO2) can be attributed to the production of beef, soy, palm oil and timber alone.”

Forests play an important role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. However, agricultural expansion is a major driver of deforestation and forest degradation. In today’s side event on deforestation-free agriculture, panelists discussed the importance of halting deforestation and reducing emissions in commodity supply chains. A panelist from the Rainforest Alliance pointed out the lack of attention to sustainable, deforestation-free sourcing: “Currently, there is no existing large-scale framework to verify that products, processes, or producers do not contribute to the loss of natural forest.” Today’s panel highlighted several important considerations in developing and implementing such a system.

One of the main themes from today’s event focused on traceability. A 2015 report co-authored by a panelist from SNV points to the importance of traceability in halting supply chains that cause deforestation. Voluntary certifications are one way to communicate to consumers how sustainable products are. Currently, many existing certification schemes currently lack traceability systems to identify deforestation-free supply chains. A transparent traceability system is essential to make it clear where end-products originate from.

Source: NWF

Source: NWF

A second theme focused on engaging producers. The Rainforest Alliance’s 2015 position paper on this issue discusses the important of engaging producers as allies. Speakers highlighted the importance of working with front-runner companies to eliminate deforestation from commodity trade. Nathalie Walker from the National Wildlife Federation described a successful example of engaging producers and converting sustainable pledges into action. A National Wildlife Federation study published in Science explained how Brazil’s soy moratorium, a voluntary pledge from large soy companies not to clear Amazon forest for soy, halted deforestation more effectively than government policy alone. The lead author explained: “Prior to the Soy Moratorium, about 30% of soy planted in the Amazon was directly replacing forests, but under the current protections, it has fallen to less than 1%.”

A third theme centered on increasing public and private sector collaboration. Speakers highlighted the critical importance of governments having a vision for green growth and supporting sustainable production through policies and plans, and through establishing or expanding incentives. Similarly, companies should encourage deforestation-free initiatives, voluntary standards, and certification. The issues of traceability, engaging producers, and increasing public-private sector collaboration are all important components of supporting the transition to deforestation-free agriculture. Companies and national governments are increasingly taking a step in the right direction and making public commitments to deforestation-free products.