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Rainforest Destruction Reshaping Brazil

Many scientists blame deforestation, generated in large part by agriculture, for global climate change and disrupted rain patterns in the Amazon. Clearing Amazonian forest to create new pastures is illegal now in Brazil, but a cash-strapped government is struggling to enforce the law.

The Brazilian Amazon demonstrates that environmental destruction can be overcome. Meanwhile, this destruction continues at a frightening speed, which threatens the people of the Amazon, the country and the world.

Since Brazil began monitoring deforestation in 1988, 166,000 square miles have been razed through 2017. Deforestation peaked in 1995, when a swath the size of Hawaii, about 11,000 square miles, was turned to pasture. That rate has slowed, but 2,548 square miles were cleared just last year.

deforestation and global warming

This document indicates the possible ways to end deforestation in the region, with environmental, economic and social benefits for the country. Prepared by the Zero Deforestation Working Group – composed of experts from the organizations Greenpeace Brazil, ICV, Imaflora, Imazon, IPAM, Instituto Socioambiental, WWF Brazil and TNC Brazil, it has the most current scientific literature on forests, climate and agriculture.

Zero Deforestation is possible. It’s vital. No other nation has cleared as much as Brazil.

There were 55 million hectares cleared between 1990 and 2010, more than double Indonesia, ranked second. Altogether, in the Amazon alone, 780,000 km² of native vegetation has been lost, an area more than twice the size of the territory of Germany. The rate of destruction over the last two decades has been 170 times faster than that registered in the Atlantic Rainforest during Colonial Brazil. The loss was accelerated between 1990 and 2000, with an average of 18.6 thousand km2 deforested per year, and between 2000 and 2010, with 19.1 thousand km2 lost annually and 6 thousand km2 between 2012 and 2017.

About 20 percent of the original forest was already cut down without generating significant benefits for Brazilians and for the development of the region. On the contrary, there are several losses. Pollution from fires, for example, each year causes deaths, increased cases of respiratory diseases and changes in the regional climate that can bring great risk to productivity in the field. The government itself, through its research agencies, already indicates that it is unnecessary to continue deforestation of the Amazon, since it estimates that it is possible to shelter all agricultural production in the areas that are already open.

Several Amazon governors agree. The recent past confirms this thesis. Measures implemented between 2005 and 2012 have cut deforestation rates in the region by about 70 percent and indicate that the elements needed to achieve ZD are present. Among them are the agreements to end deforestation in agricultural production, increase the efficiency of livestock farming in the areas already cleared, the creation of protected areas (Conservation Units and indigenous lands) and compliance with the Forest Code. These policies, several of which are addressed in this document, if applied not only to the Amazon but also to other biomes, would be able to produce, well before 2030, the end of deforestation in the country.

It is clear that deforestation did not generate wealth for most Amazon inhabitants. The municipalities of the Amazon are among the lowest HDI (Human Development Index) and SPI (Social Progress Index) of the country. They follow the so-called “boom-collapse” logic.

At first, easy access to natural resources produces an explosion of wealth in the municipality. This wealth, however, is concentrated in the hands of few and runs out in a few years. The end result is swollen cities, with poor infrastructure, no quality jobs and a concentrated income. The additional contribution of each year of deforestation to the economy is negligible. The average area cleared per year between 2007 and 2016 (7,502 km2) has the potential to add about R$453 million annually in gross value of agricultural production (i.e. production volume multiplied by the price of products). This figure represented only 0.013 percent of the average Brazilian GDP between 2007 and 2016.

The old argument that it is necessary to clear new areas of forest to increase agricultural production does not hold up. There is already a huge deforested area that has been poorly used. Much of it is degraded pasture. According to the Brazilian government, in 2014 there were 10 million hectares of degraded pastures and pastures with forest regeneration in the Amazon. In the country 70 percent of the total pasture area is degraded or in the process of degradation. In fact, when measures against deforestation were more effective, agricultural production continued to grow, as farmers invested in increasing land productivity.

For example, ten years after the Soy Moratorium – which began blocking farmers who planted in newly deforested areas – in 2006, planted area increased from 1.2 million hectares to 4.5 million hectares due to planting in pasture areas. The large amount of poorly exploited areas in the region results to a large extent from deforestation from land grabbing, through the invasion of public lands, often using labor that is degrading or analogous to slave labor.

In 2016, for example, at least 24 percent of deforestation occurred in public forests not yet earmarked and in areas with no information. This land grabbing is also linked to very low-efficiency cattle ranching: 65 percent of the deforested area in the region is occupied by pastures, with an average stocking rate of less than one head of cattle per hectare. Therefore, the alleged economic imperative of deforestation is a false matter.

Politicians, agribusiness representatives and experts declared on October 31, 2017 to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that it is possible to expand Agribusiness without deforesting.

Yes. Brazil can double grain production by 2025 by occupying half of the 74 million hectares of degraded pastures that are not being used by extensive livestock grazing. Technologies that are available are also allies for increase productivity and allow for agricultural expansion without clearing new areas,” said Marcos da Rosa, president of the Brazilian Association of Soy Producers.

If the economic benefits of deforestation in the Amazon are questionable, their socio-environmental and economic losses are not. For example, air pollution from forest fires, coupled with deforestation, has the potential to cause hundreds of early deaths each year. The drop in the number of fires between 2001 and 2012, the period in which Brazil most reduced the rate of deforestation, resulted in a decrease in air pollution and may have prevented the early death of 400 to 1,700 people per year in South America. Not only from a health point of view, but also from an economic point of view, forest fires resulting from deforestation can cause serious damage.

In 1998 alone, a year under strong El Niño effects, Amazon states sourced a loss of almost US$5 billion (9 percent of Amazon’s GDP). The Public Health System of Brazil (SUS) alone had expenses with respiratory health treatment in the order of US$ 11 million. Agriculture in the region, that year, suffered a loss of $45 million.

Zeroing deforestation, therefore, also means saving lives, reducing government expenditures, and mitigating private economic losses. Deforestation also enhances rural violence and loss of public assets, exposes Brazil to the risks of commercial boycotts and is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil – deforestation in the Amazon alone contributed with about 26 percent in 2016.

The end of deforestation in the Amazon, in addition to contributing to the fight against climate change worldwide, will be fundamental for agricultural productivity in the future. There is increasing evidence that climate, not only regional or global, but mainly local, depends on the forest intact. In a grain-producing region or in areas with large settlements, the existence of forests (private or public) is necessary to dictate the future path of agricultural production.

A good example of forests as “irrigators” of agricultural production comes from the upper Xingu region of Mato Grosso. Over the past few years, clearing of the forest around the Xingu Indigenous Park resulted in a local temperature rise of around 0.5°C. This may be behind the severe droughts that hit the region. Were it not for the existence of the Xingu Park, this increase in temperature and drought would be even greater. Therefore, maintaining a mosaic of forests keeps the irrigation system running for everyone.

Disease and Death: Pollution from fires associated with deforestation causes premature diseases and deaths. The reduction of deforestation/forest fires in the Amazon averaged from 400 to 1,700 early deaths from respiratory diseases per year between 2001 and 2012 in Latin America. The decline in deforestation has reduced the rate of premature births and underweight infants.

Loss Of Public Patrimony: Land grabbers deforest to demonstrate possession of public lands. Illegal land grabbing affects approximately 7 million hectares, valued at R$21.2 billion.

Amazon basin deforestation

Social Conflicts: By August 2017, a thousand areas with land conflicts have already been recorded, affecting close to 94 thousand families and resulting in 47 murders in the Legal Amazon. The total number of murders in the Amazon in 2017 has already surpassed that recorded in all of 2016.

Risk Of Boycotts: Environmental campaigns led companies to establish the Soy Moratorium, which boycotts purchases of deforested areas after 2006. And boycotts may increase. France, for example, has already announced that it will phase out imports of commodities that contribute to deforestation in the world, including the Amazon.

Increased Climatic Risks: Deforestation in the Amazon accounted for 26 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. With every 10 percent reduction in forest cover, the Xingu basin, for example, has a 50mm reduction in evapotranspiration and a 0.5 degree C increase in temperature. The worsening climate change can lead to a reduction of 1.3 percent of national GDP in 2035 and up to 2.5 percent in 2050. The loss of agricultural GDP would be even more serious: between 1.7 percent and 2.9 percent in 2035 and from 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent in 2050.

The country has successfully tested and implemented measures to control deforestation in the Amazon. Since the creation of the Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Amazon (PPCDAm) in 2004, the rate of deforestation has fallen by about 80 percent up to 2012 – something that was previously considered by some decision makers as an impossible task. For example, based on the monitoring of deforestation by real-time satellites – through the Deter and SAD systems – the government focused, during this period, on policies in critical areas.

The government created protected areas in regions targeted for illegal land grabbing. Between 2002 and 2009, for example, almost 709 thousand square kilometers of protected areas were created, contributing to the decline in deforestation in subsequent years.

The National Monetary Council established credit denial to properties embargoed due to illegal deforestation. Credit restriction, as of 2008, helped to curb deforestation, especially in municipalities of livestock production. However, much still needs to be done to readjust the credit criteria to stimulate good practices. In addition, environmental campaigns, market restrictions and lawsuits have stimulated companies’ commitments against deforestation associated with the production of soy and beef.

Measures that contributed to the decrease in deforestation between 2004-2012:

2003-2006: The expansion of protected areas in the Amazon by 59.6 million hectares resulted, in this period, in the reduction of deforestation. It is estimated that 37 percent of the reduction observed between 2004 and 2006 occurred due to protected areas.

2006: Soy Moratorium. The voluntary agreement of the industry against the commercialization of soy associated with deforestation in the Amazon resulted in a reduction of deforestation area for soy cultivation. In 2004, up to 30 percent of soy planted in the Amazon came from recent deforestation. Today, that figure is only 1.5 percent.

2008: Surveillance directed towards municipalities with high deforestation. The intensification of surveillance in the 43 municipalities listed among those that most deforest avoided the deforestation of 355,100 hectares per year between 2009 and 2011.

2008: More efficient penalties. The application of immediate penalties, such as seizure of assets and embargo of activities, has a greater deterrent effect than the imposition of fines. In addition, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Central Bank and markets all employed embargoes in the fight against deforestation.

2008: Credit restriction Researchers estimate that R$ 2.9 billion (US$ 1.4 billion) in rural credit was not allocated between 2008 and 2011 due to the restrictions imposed by Resolution 3545, approved by the National Monetary Council, in order to reduce financial incentives for deforestation.

2009: Some of the slaughterhouses pressured by environmental campaigns and legal processes stopped buying from farms that cleared illegally (cattle agreement and TAC) and deforestation fell by 6 percent on farms that registered immediately in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR).

2006-2013: Deforestation was 10 percent lower in property registered in CAR in Pará and Mato Grosso in relation to the period prior to the existence of CAR.

Unfortunately, the decline in forest destruction rates observed between 2005 and 2012 has been halted. The average rate of deforestation between 2013 and 2017 was 38 percent higher than in 2012, the year with the lowest rate since the beginning of the measurements. This increase in deforestation after 2012 occurred due to high impunity for environmental crimes, setbacks in socio-environmental policies, flaws in cattle agreements, encouragement of land grabbing of public land and the resumption of large infrastructure projects.

The scenario ahead does not point to significant reductions in this rate for the coming years. Currently, there are several measures to weaken forest protection approved or proposed in the Executive Branch and in the National Congress, including approved amnesty for land grabbers, and the reduction of protected areas, the weakening of environmental licensing, as well as the halting of the demarcation of indigenous and quilombola lands.

In addition, if additional measures are not taken, deforestation can remain high in the next decade, driven by demands for agricultural products and lack of political commitment and government and market inefficiency to enforce the necessary control. The rate of deforestation could reach levels between 9,391 km2 and 13,789 km2 until 2027 if the same historical relation between cattle herd and total deforested area is maintained.

Measures that enabled the increase in deforestation between 2012 and 2016:

Impunity for environmental crimes is still high: The risks of punishment and losses associated with the crime of deforestation are still low, making enforcement ineffective: between August 2008 and July 2013 only 18 percent of the total deforested area was embargoed – in the same period approximately 95 percent of the deforestation in the Amazon was illegal. The judgment of the infractions is slow and most of the fines applied are not paid.

Environmental policy setbacks: With the new Forest Code, Congress and government conceded amnesty to 47 million hectares illegally deforested in 2012; reduced 2.9 million hectares of Conservation Units between 2005-2012; reduced the number of environmental analysts allocated to the Amazon by 40 percent in ICMBio (2010-2016) and 33 percent in Ibama (2009-2015).

Flaws in cattle agreements: Half of the slaughterhouses, responsible for about 30 percent of the slaughter capacity in the Legal Amazon, did not sign the agreements. In addition, companies that have signed the agreements have no control over indirect producers (breeding and rearing). Delays in audits facilitate fraud to cover illegal deforestation on farms. While nearly 60,000 ranchers in the Amazon adopted sustainable practices in the last decade, according to government officials, about 330,000 haven’t. Last year, ranchers cleared a swath the size of Delaware. Brazil is home to the largest cattle herd in the world earmarked for meat—214 million head. The Amazon alone is home to 87 million head, which is 30 million more than in all of Argentina and nearly the size of the total U.S. herd, 90 million, including dairy cows, according to U.S. figures.

Ranchers could boost productivity quite a bit. On average, each Amazonian head of cattle gets two acres to munch on, while ranchers raise two head per acre in other parts of Brazil, a ratio similar to the U.S. And here in the rainforest, the animals are smaller, feeding on blades of low-quality grass. At a slaughterhouse run by JBS SA in Pará state, the average animal weighed a slim 550 pounds, 150 fewer pounds than cows raised in feedlots in other parts of Brazil where the company also has plants.

Many ranchers in the Amazon sell fresh pastures at 10 times what they paid for land with tree cover. Others say they can’t absorb the high cost of sustainable farming.

Grabbing of public lands continues to be lucrative: The government does not reclaim invaded public lands and approved laws to facilitate regularization of lands invaded. Under Law No. 13,465/2017, subsidy for illegal land grabbing in the Amazon could reach R$ 21 billion.

Large infrastructure projects: Deforestation increases in the surroundings of large infrastructure projects because it increases immigration. Risks are underestimated and/or mitigating measures are not designed and/or implemented. This was the case of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant: in a hydroelectric construction scenario and with high immigration in the region, mitigating measures in the surroundings were not implemented.

After decades of trial and error, successes and failures, advances and setbacks, there is enough knowledge in Brazil about how to achieve ZD with social, economic and political responsibility. It is necessary to discourage deforestation and at the same time support the sustainable use of the forest, seek recognition and positive incentives for forest conservation and compensate best agricultural practices. The implementation of this vision depends on the government, businesses, rural producers, and also on manifestations of society, which elects representatives, demands and finances public policies and buys and invests in companies.

The end of deforestation in the Amazon will result from four short-term actions:

  • The implementation of effective and perennial environmental public policies
  • Support for sustainable forest uses and improved agricultural practices
  • The drastic restriction of the market for products associated with new deforestation
  • The engagement of voters, consumers and investors in efforts to eliminate deforestation

Reducing deforestation in a context of scarce public resources will depend, to a large extent, on increasing the effectiveness of punishment for environmental crimes. The current Director of the Department of Forests and Deforestation Control in the Ministry of the Environment, in his doctoral thesis, has already proposed more effective procedures. Some are already in practice and have already generated positive results, such as the increase in the number of legal notices and embargoes applied by IBAMA, especially through remote actions.

The legal notices are sent by mail after crossing maps of deforestation detected by satellite images, the maps of real estate obtained from the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) and authorizations for deforestation. The cost of each remote legal notice (R$600) is 4.66 times lower than that based on field surveillance (R$2,800). This measure may increase the likelihood of a crime being notified by 192 percent, according to Jair Schimitt. The government can use satellite imagery to monitor if the embargoed areas are being used and, thus, prosecute violators. To reduce trial time, it is still necessary to adopt automated administrative processes, as is already done in some Courts of Justice. Such a measure would increase the likelihood of cases going to trial by 169 percent, according to Schimitt. The effective collection of fines would generate a large volume of resources to intensify the surveillance and implementation of protected areas.

It is even more important that the government broaden and strengthen the punishment of companies buying and financing products from illegally deforested areas. After all, it is more effective to punish a few companies than the thousands of farmers they finance or source from. A good example was the Shoyo operation, which fined Santander Bank R$ 47.5 million for financing the planting of soybeans in embargoed areas. Another was the Carne Fria (literally “Cold Meat”) operation, which investigated 15 slaughterhouses and an exporter of live cattle bought from embargoed areas on 24 farms. Ibama crossed public information of the animal transit guides (GTA) with the embargoes. Intervention by the Federal Public Prosecutor´s Office was necessary for the government of Pará to release the GTA data. Unfortunately, the Pará government continues to hamper access to such data. Therefore, states truly committed to combating deforestation should provide full data transparency.

Meanwhile, after Operation Cold Meat, the Minister of the Environment apologized to the producers and declared that the operation was inopportune and that the acting superintendent of Ibama in Pará, who participated in the set-up of the operation, was dismissed. These reactions reinforce the importance of society shielding the environmental organs from political influence.

One of the key roles of surveillance is to curb the theft of public lands. As already seen, at least 24 percent of the deforestation verified today has its origin in land grabbing of public lands. Public authorities must intensify operations against organized squatters, who, in addition to destroying forests, carry out other crimes, such as money laundering, which provide for harsher penalties than violations against the environment. Another strategy to combat illegal land grabbing and the speculative deforestation is the effective collection of the Rural Territorial Tax (ITR). Such a tax was created in the 1970s to curb speculation in unproductive land. The collection could increase 100 times based on analysis done in Pará (from about R$5 million to R$500 million per year) using rural real estate maps (CAR) and satellite images to identify land use. ITR’s revenues could be reinvested primarily in rural areas in the form of incentives for forest conservation and the adoption of better agricultural practices in areas already deforested.

By closing the frontier for illegal occupation and collecting the ITR effectively, the public authority would also signal to farmers that the increase in production should occur in areas that are already deforested. In addition to the environmental benefit, combating illegal land grabbing would help reduce conflicts that occur over dispute for public lands.

In the Amazon there are about 70 million hectares of public forests that have not been destined yet to a specific use, part of which has already been cleared. It is essential that public authorities create protected areas on these public lands, including indigenous lands and Conservation Units for various uses such as tourism, scientific research and use of forest products (e.g. extractive reserves). Where the type of public land allocation still needs to be better studied, the government should institute Areas under Provisional Administrative Limitation (ALAP), while conducting studies to decide future allocation. The creation of ALAP, which prevents any use of the areas, is especially relevant around regions that will receive infrastructure projects that quickly attract immigrants and illegal land squatters.

If the creation of new protected areas results in a decrease of deforestation, the opposite is true. Ending forest protection, as a result of actions to reduce the size of protected areas, can motivate illegal deforestation. In the Jamanxim National Forest in Pará, the announcement of the federal government’s decision to reduce the protected area could result in a significant increase in deforestation in the coming years. Therefore, public authorities should not reduce the size or degree of protection of Conservation Units.

The urgency of eliminating deforestation requires that federal and state governments have bold goals and coordinate their activities. Some states have already set targets to reduce deforestation that are bolder than that of the federal government. For example, the governor of Pará declared that the state could eliminate net deforestation by 2020. Mato Grosso, in a strategy that unites efforts from the government, companies and civil society support, has set the goal of eliminating illegal deforestation by 2020.

However, just as at the federal level, the implementation of these state plans falls short of what is needed due to political resistance and budget constraints. Deforestation in Mato Grosso in recent years is still high. The federal government should revise its goals, include an end to deforestation, and act in coordination with states to avoid the sense that illegal deforestation will be tolerated until 2030, considering NDC’s goal of eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030.

Extraction of forest products yielded an average R$3 billion based on 2015 and 2016, according to IBGE, of which R$1.8 billion came from logging and R$537 million from açaí13 extraction. However, this potential is poorly explored regionally, since much of the production is exported to other regions instead of being processed in the Amazon.

Production is also often associated with predatory practices (for example, about half of the logging is illegal). It is therefore essential to support best practices in producing these products by strengthening and improving the quality of existing programs and plans to reduce deforestation and increase income associated with forest conservation, including the National Plan for Biodiversity Products Supply Chain and General Policy for Minimum Price for Biodiversity Products (PGPMBio), National Program for Strengthening Family Agriculture (PRONAF) and the National Policy for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (PNATer).

These programs have the potential to serve populations in Conservation Units such as extractive reserves and Agrarian Reform settlement projects. Such programs should be linked to centers of scientific research and development as is done with other products of national agriculture (such as Embrapa Grape and Wine, Embrapa Beef Cattle and Embrapa Milk Cattle).

In addition, infrastructure planning for the Amazon needs to be articulated with local development plans, with the objective of stimulating sustainable production chains that are already underway. Infrastructure plans in the Amazon are currently focused on large energy and transport projects that have little positive impact on local development plans and contribute to the expansion of the agricultural frontier and real estate speculation that stimulate deforestation. Policies to support forest conservation could be strengthened with state and municipal resources that reward forest conservation. The Green ICMS Tax, implemented by Pará and Mato Grosso, transfers additional tax resources to municipalities with better conservation performance. These experiences could be adopted by other states.

State governments also have the power to influence the allocation of more resources to conservation in private areas. They can, for example, accelerate the application of the Forest Code, which provides for the offsetting of forest liabilities in the same biome, creating an Environmental Reserve Quota (CRA) market. By this system, the rural property that conserves forest beyond the legal minimum (Legal Reserve) can sell conservation quotas for those that need to compensate for the excessive deforestation in other properties. This quota market can reach R$5.8 billion in Mato Grosso alone. CRAs could guarantee protection of up to 3.6 million hectares, if used to offset the entire Amazon Legal Reserve deficit.

However, a study by Esalq and Imaflora points out that there are 12 million hectares of forests on private land that are not protected by the Forest Code (i.e. in addition to the required Legal Reserve and Permanent Protection Area). Thus, discounting the potential of CRAs, there are still 8.4 million unprotected hectares. To encourage the protection of these areas it would be advisable to create means of payment for environmental services for landowners who conserve forests beyond legal protection.

Given that conservation of the Amazon contributes to the country’s climate balance, therefore, for agricultural production and energy generation, it is fair to allocate additional federal resources to the region. One way to do this would be to increase allocations from the Participation Funds to states and municipalities. Today, the federal government transfers R$50 billion a year to the states through the FPE (State Participation Funds).

If only 2 percent of the FPE resources were distributed according to a forest protection criterion (states with more protected areas would receive an additional one), about R$1 billion would be allocated to forest conservation. Of these, approximately R$770 million would be destined to the Amazon biome, which hosts 77 percent of the continental area of the Brazilian Conservation Units. This approach is consistent with the new PPCDAm approach, which provides for the elaboration of economic, fiscal and tax standards and instruments.

Increasing production and efficiency of the activities in the deforested areas will maintain the socioeconomic contribution of this sector without new deforestation. Some progress has already been made, but the cattle industry is an obstacle. For example, its potential does not reach 34 percent. If it rose to 52 percent (which would still be low), livestock would meet the demand for beef and, consequently, grain, by 2040 without the need for additional forest conversion and still avoid the emission of 14 billion tons of CO2.

The most powerful policy to support the adoption of best agricultural practices is the rural credit and other subsidies of the federal government’s Agriculture and Livestock Plan, which is financed with taxes from all Brazilians. In 2017/2018, this plan totaled around R$ 200 billion17. However, only 1.1 percent of rural credit is earmarked exclusively for low carbon agriculture through the ABC (Low Carbon Agriculture) Program. To encourage a more rapid adoption of more sustainable practices, the federal government needs to adopt two main measures:

  1. Prioritize rural credit only for municipalities that reduce deforestation and thus encourage rural producers, mayors and governors to engage against deforestation; and
  2. Establish a transition goal (for example, a maximum of 10 years) so that all rural credit is allocated to ABC alone. In doing so, the taxpayer would encourage that the entire system of research, development, and technical assistance focus on techniques compatible with reducing deforestation and increasing production with low greenhouse gas emissions. Irrespective of promoting more efficient use of the cleared areas, to reduce deforestation globally we will need to reduce food waste and change food practices (Box 5).

Increasing production in areas already deforested is the most obvious way to continue increasing agricultural income without deforestation, especially with cattle.

Up to 14 percent of the emissions generated by agriculture in 2050 could be avoided by better managing the use and distribution of food, according to a new study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Between 30 percent and 40 percent of all food produced on the planet is never consumed, because it deteriorates after being harvested and during transportation or because it is thrown away by traders and consumers.

Irrespective of the increase in production only in areas already deforested, it will also be necessary to reduce the consumption of animal protein globally. As the world population grows and productivity rates of agricultural production reach the limit, a greater amount of land would be required to produce if current conditions of production and consumption are maintained. This model is unsustainable, and experts (including the FAO, UN Food and Agriculture Organization) have recommended more efficient use of agricultural products and food with a greater emphasis on the use of plants (instead of animal protein) and alternative sources of animal protein (e.g., edible insects need six times less feed to produce the same amount of bovine protein).

A 2015 study by Imaflora illustrates the Brazilian case of the nutritional inefficiency of production. In 2006, agriculture produced 35 times more protein than cattle production did, although pastures occupy 2.6 times more area than agriculture. The 2006 harvest would meet the protein needs of 2.1 billion people, while meat production would feed only 85 million. In addition, today, much of this land used for agriculture is intended to provide food to fatten animals for human consumption and not eat the vegetable protein itself. The shift to diets less dependent on animal protein and more sustainable production systems is necessary and requires the promotion of a just transition from the current model of production and consumption respecting the social, economic and cultural differences of each country.

Companies that buy or finance agricultural products should reduce the market for products associated with deforestation and support the adoption of better agricultural practices. They may do so voluntarily or because of financial risks, market blockages, or legal pressures from investors or consumers, which are becoming more and more common. The various initiatives to monitor corporate commitments and legal action against buyers and financiers of deforestation mean that risks are increasing and will increase further as many commitments have targets for 2020. Recent experiences show that when companies monitor the origin of products and boycott purchases from deforested areas, producers stop deforestation.

Therefore, companies that claim to be committed to zero (absolute or liquid) deforestation – whether they are processors, such as slaughterhouses, retailers, supermarkets, or industries such as leather – must trace the source of all their products that can be associated with deforestation, such as meat, milk, soy, corn, cocoa and palm oil, among others. For example, in the case of the Amazon, slaughterhouses and supermarkets must trace the cattle from the breeding and raising farms that supply the finishing farms from which they buy.

Likewise, supermarkets that have announced policies aligned with zero deforestation in the acquisition of beef also need to implement their systems and monitor the entire supply chain. Pilot projects show the technical and financial feasibility of this complete tracking of livestock – for example, the total cost would be around ten cents per kilo of meat for the final consumer. This type of initiative could scale up with the participation of more public and private actors, as happened with the successful program to combat foot-and-mouth disease.

Buyers also should demand that half of the slaughterhouses that haven’t committed against deforestation – with slaughtering capacity equivalent to 30 percent of the total Amazon region – engage in the agreements, and that supermarkets that have not yet published policies to control deforestation associated with cattle production, such as large Amazon networks like DB, Líder and Cencosud, do so immediately. This would reduce unfair competition from those who are already restricting purchases from deforested areas.

The adhesion of producers will be as big as the support of the supply chain of their business. Thus, companies should broaden their initiatives to support environmental regularization and increase productivity. For example, governments and companies in the livestock supply chain could help train about 2,000 people needed to improve livestock productivity.

The government also plays a crucial role in strengthening company agreements by providing public information to help monitor farms and other land uses. The livestock supply chain, for example, could be freed from deforestation if the Ministries of Agriculture and Livestock (MAPA) and the Environment (MMA) and the state health defense agencies made the CAR data available (in the case of MMA) and the animal transit guides (in the case of states).

Slaughterhouses, supermarket chains and other interested parties could crosscheck this data to identify the origin and destination of the livestock. It is likely that governments will release this data only after more pressure from consumers and companies committed to forest conservation, as there is resistance in the rural sector against increased surveillance and transparency, as was evident in the reactions against the dissemination of CAR data and against IBAMA’s Operation Cold Meat.

The total and active transparency of other data generated by governments (municipal, state and federal) is also fundamental in monitoring supply chains that act as potential drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. Among this information are the Forest Origin Documents and/or Forest Transport Guides and the Mapping of Forest Degradation in the Brazilian Amazon (DEGRAD).

Opinion polls show that most Brazilians support forest conservation and, in fact, at various times society’s participation and pressure have favored the conservation of the Amazon, including recent campaigns against policies that facilitate destruction. However, systemic political corruption and the lack of prioritization of environmental issues by governments make it difficult for the population’s demands to be met. In this context, social pressure must be even stronger and continuous against attempts to weaken forest protection, such as easing environmental licensing, reducing the protection of Conservation Units, halting the demarcation of Indigenous Lands and extending the term in order to legalize land grabbing.

However, it is not enough to reject destructive policies; it is necessary to support projects that promote the sustainable development of the region – for example, the Sustainable Amazon Plan, launched in May 2008, which provides for the valorization of sociocultural and ecological diversity and the reduction of regional inequalities. The population may also demand that their taxes be used only for policies that favor conservation and best practices, such as those described in previous sections. In addition, to give political sustainability to conservation, citizens should elect politicians who understand the value of forests to the wellbeing of the population and the economic development of the country. Every Brazilian and a global citizen, as a consumer, can help transform companies into conservation allies through purchases and investments (several of which are listed on stock exchanges and others financed by public resources). Corporate markets play an important role.

The Soy Moratorium has shown that rural producers changed rapidly when European soybean consumers announced that they would not buy soy from deforested areas. In addition to ceasing deforestation, they began to invest in production in areas already deforested. In the last decade, the pressure of the national and international market, which, even buying less than what is consumed internally, also managed to push the largest companies to adopt systems of socio-environmental control for livestock production. Also under pressure from civil society, the largest retail chains had to adopt policies for sourcing cattle aligned with zero deforestation. Thus, initiatives that assess and bring visibility to commitments to conservation are essential to channel attention from society and promote changes in policy and business. Along the same path, it is essential that countries investing in the country and in their businesses also demand criteria aligned with zero deforestation and respect for local communities.

After a broad mobilization by society, in 2015 a bill was passed in the National Congress that defends the end of deforestation in Brazilian forests. The project was supported by more than 1.4 million Brazilians and is still being processed in the Chamber and Senate. It is essential that society remain mobilized so that the project is discussed and the actions that build this path become a reality.

The Zero Deforestation Working Group includes, Greenpeace, Imaflora, Imazon, Instituto Centro de Vida, Instituto Socioambiental, IPAM Amazonia, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund,. The group has been supported by Climate and Land Use Alliance, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Norad.

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservationreforestationurban forestrycarbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management is critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a charitable division of Crossbow Communications.

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Author: Gary Chandler

Gary Chandler is the founder and Executive Director of Sacred Seedlings.