Growing demand for agricultural products adds to competing pressures on tropical forest landscapes

The annual consumption of food and agricultural products increased by 48% between 2001 and 2018, more than double the rate of increase of the human population, as reported in a new analysis released by the Tropical Forest Alliance to the World Economic Forum titled Forests , Food Systems and Livelihoods: Trends, Forecasts and Solutions to Reframing Approaches to Forest Protection.

The report, which tracks the relationship between growing demand for food and agriculture and deforestation, paints a picture of the growing competing demands on tropical forest landscapes. Since 2001, 160 million people have been lifted out of poverty and undernourishment, increasing per capita food consumption, especially protein which has increased by 45% since 2000.

In producer countries, these trends are often linked to economic development and rural livelihoods that create a complex set of trade-offs for policy makers. For example, soy is now Brazil’s most valuable export commodity, and around 16.3 million people (12% of the total workforce) are employed in the oil industry. palm in Indonesia.

The report also highlights the significant loss of primary forests, which are rich stores of carbon and biodiversity. An area of ​​over 60 million hectares of primary tropical forest has been lost since 2002, almost the size of France. The loss was 12% higher in 2020 than the year before, despite all the best efforts of governments, businesses and civil society. Over 80% of this deforestation has occurred in landscapes where agriculture is the dominant engine and much of it is linked to the production of globally traded commodities, including soybeans, olive oil. palm, cattle, cocoa, coffee and wood pulp.

Faced with this reality, the report concludes that those working to reverse deforestation must deploy systemic solutions that take into account the multiple competing demands on these landscapes. For example, incentives can be provided to farmers to conserve more while producing food, with potential sources coming from both carbon finance and domestic finance for rural credit. More efforts need to be made to increase productivity in a sustainable way, especially for small farmers facing increased climate stress. Improved technical assistance and new plant material to help increase yields, as well as support for the diversification of income sources, are essential.

Mr. Samuel Abu Jinapor, Minister of Lands and Natural Resources of Ghana, said: “Now is the time to act. We will pursue progressive policies with a comprehensive vision of restoring Ghana’s forest cover, thereby contributing to the global effort against climate change. “

Justin Adams, Executive Director of Tropical Forest Alliance, says, “No single policy or solution can solve this problem. Commodity-induced deforestation should not be treated in isolation, whether as a purely environmental issue or as a supply chain issue. Maintaining standing forests is directly linked to maintaining rural livelihoods, ensuring food security for a growing world population, and supporting economic development. Above all, the community of action working on this issue must extend beyond those engaged at the frontier of forests and environmental issues to more broadly include actors in the food system, such as farmers, local communities, local businesses and local governments.

There is evidence that private sector supply chain strategies help reduce deforestation. For example, Nestlé assessed that 90% of key ingredients – including palm oil, sugar, soybeans and meat – were free from deforestation since last year, and pledged to produce 100% of products without deforestation by 2025. Magdi Batato, Executive Vice President and COO of Nestlé said: “A positive future for the forest is possible if the private sector collectively focuses on achieving positive impact in the critical landscapes that underpin our food systems, and if we work hand in hand with farmers and local communities, and governments to form broader solutions at local, regional and global levels. The benefits are many: more resilient communities and livelihoods, more sustainable food systems and a healthier planet. “

As many companies embark on ambitious efforts in their own supply chains, it is also essential that this be done in conjunction with broader sector transformation to reduce net deforestation. Landscape or jurisdictional approaches, which promote sustainable practices by anchoring them in local governance systems, provide a practical way for businesses and governments to collaborate.

Christine Montenegro McGrath, Vice President and Head of Global Impact and Sustainability, Mondelēz International and Co-Chair, Consumer Goods Forum Forest Positive Coalition of Action says: This year we need to mainstream food production as an essential part of the collective action required to achieve both the Paris Agreement and the biodiversity targets. This report shows that landscape-scale initiatives are a crucial piece of this puzzle for businesses that are turning positive for the forest. “

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided alarming evidence of irreversible climate change, including for forests, and also established that climate change is already having a negative impact on food security and terrestrial ecosystems, with the tropics among the most vulnerable regions in terms of crop yields. This report predicts a decline in the agricultural workforce, posing even more risks to agricultural production.

World Economic Forum President Borge Brende said: “This combination of risks from climate change and demographic shifts suggests that the rural development models that have supported the expansion of tropical agriculture in the first two decades of the century are under increasing pressure from several angles. This highlights the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to find systemic solutions exemplified by the work of the Tropical Forest Alliance and the FACT Dialogue which will present its findings at COP26 in Glasgow.

Finally, the report highlights the need to fill data gaps that can improve transparency in supply chains. There have been a number of promising innovations in recent years in improving transparency and data quality, in particular the use of satellite imagery. However, despite this progress, gaps remain, including maps of concession boundaries, trade and export data, distinguishing between loss of tree cover and deforestation, spatial data on agricultural production, including information on time lags (between deforestation and associated production) and improving the stringency in which drivers of deforestation are included.

Amalia H. Mercado