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  • Does soybean certification help to reduce deforestation?

Does soybean certification help to reduce deforestation?

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An aerial view of the Amazon rainforest, near Manaus, Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

If hearing the word “soy” makes you think of tofu, edamame and soy sauce, think again.

Soybean is a “hidden commodity”, and most consumers have no idea how much of the legume they eat daily. Not only is it found in thousands of processed foods and products, from margarine and chocolate to cosmetics and soaps, rising demand for meat has driven soy production to nearly 10 times what it was 50 years ago.

A full 80 percent of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock. Much of it is produced in the Amazon and Cerrado ecosystems of Brazil, which each lose between 5 to 10,000 square kilometers of forest each year, despite public and private efforts to limit soy production to land that has already been cleared.

Today, 2 to 4 percent of global soy production is certified as responsible, representing a niche market of concerned consumers who are willing to pay more for products guaranteed to be emissions and deforestation-free. But do such guarantees actually reduce deforestation?

Not necessarily, according to recent research by the University of Bonn’s Center for Development Research and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which compared seven soy certification schemes in Brazil.

“We find that these schemes may be able to provide consumers with deforestation-free products, but they cannot generally safeguard against the negative impacts of increasing land footprints,” said Jan Börner, a CIFOR senior associate and professor of Economics of Sustainable Land Use and Bio-economy at the University of Bonn, who co-authored a policy brief that sums up the research results.

Although all seven schemes commit to preventing illegal deforestation and support the enforcement of national laws for natural ecosystem preservation on private properties, they may simply relocate sourcing patterns or provoke indirect land use change – which is known to occur but difficult to measure.

“As long as it is a niche market, you can source soy from already deforested landscapes and label it deforestation-free,” Börner said. “So consumers are eventually paying for something that is very easy to provide, but doesn’t actually reduce deforestation.”

Additionally, some studies argue that confining soybean production to already cleared land – which is widely available – is pushing cattle production to expand new pastures along the forest margins. By converting low-value pastures to high-value cropland, cattle farmers are benefiting from differences in land prices by selling high and buying low, reinvesting profits and effectively ramping up overall cattle production.

This causes a cascading effect of different agricultural land uses with time lags, making it difficult to point the finger at specific drivers of deforestation. If the construction of roads and highways needed to get soy to export markets is factored in, it’s estimated that as much as one-third of Amazon deforestation since 2002 can be attributed indirectly to soybean expansion.

Read also: Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

Roads and cattle farming are two major drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR

INCENTIVE OR DISINCENTIVE

Another factor that limits the spread of voluntary certification especially for bulk commodities is low cost-effectiveness. Certification costs are similar for most schemes, but the cost of implementing them can be prohibitive, depending on the supply chain model. A combination of high transaction costs and low price premiums lower the appeal for producers – especially smallholders – to invest in certification.

“For farmers who don’t have to change anything, it’s a no-regret effort to get certified,” Börner said. “But for those who would have to significantly adjust the way they operate, the premiums are too low to create the incentive to change.”

Therefore, the effect of certification is to simply shift sourcing to farmers who can provide deforestation-free soy at relatively little or no opportunity cost, rather than encouraging those who are actually driving deforestation to change their behavior.

“We’re talking about harnessing consumers’ willingness to pay for conservation, but we’re not doing that,” Börner adds. “We’re just channeling rents to different producers that happen to be deforestation-free, but this money is not actually reducing any deforestation.”

This is not to say that certification doesn’t work.

“It does work in some contexts,” Börner said. “In Indonesia, for example, FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] certification was shown to make a significant contribution to natural forest conservation. Tropical timber is different than agricultural crops, though. It is primarily sourced from forest landscapes, where the adoption of sustainable practices can make a difference.”

As such, the voluntary standards and certification may serve as a complementary strategy, but they all hinge on appropriate and well implemented national.

“If you’re not even able to measure whether people are complying with national legislation, how can you ensure standards are delivering what they promise?” Börner said. “These value chain governance measures cannot serve as stand-alone tools to avoid illegal or undesired forms of deforestation – they have to be implemented in line with existing policies that need to be strengthened.”

Read also: Deep down in supply chains, zero deforestation commitments look different to what appears on paper

IF NOT CERTIFICATION, THEN WHAT?

The authors examine how responsible consumption initiatives could limit unsustainable expansion of soy production. Since voluntary payments such as certification are likely to remain niche markets, the scale of impact will be minimal unless these investments can be channeled into initiatives that can actually show impact.

For instance, if the willingness of consumers to pay for reducing their land footprint could be harnessed to finance direct conservation measures in areas threatened by deforestation, there is potential to make a big difference.

Based on this insight, Börner suggests that offsetting may be a more effective mechanism than certification.

For example, rather than paying a higher price for a certified soy product and having that money passed on to producers who just happen to cultivate soy without causing deforestation, consumers of products that are known to be associated with deforestation could be offered to support initiatives that demonstrate actual conservation impact on the ground.

“So you’re not guaranteeing the product is emission-free, but you’re guaranteeing that the extra money is actually going towards land-based emissions reduction,” he said. “Otherwise you’re actually blinding the consumer with a certificate that claims deforestation has been avoided, when it’s not actually the case.”

By Erin O’Connell, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


For more information on this topic, please contact Jan Börner at [email protected].

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Fine-scale processes shape ecosystem service provision by an Amazonian hyperdominant tree species

Fine-scale processes shape ecosystem service provision by an Amazonian hyperdominant tree species

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Conspecific distance and density-dependence is a key driver of tree diversity in natural forests, but the extent to which this process may influence ecosystem service provision is largely unknown. Drawing on a dataset of >135,000 trees from the Peruvian Amazon, we assessed its manifestation in biomass accumulation and seed production of Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) which plays a keystone role in carbon sequestration and NTFP harvesting in Amazonia. For the first time, we find both negative and positive effects of conspecific proximity on seed production and above ground biomass at small and large nearest neighbour distances, respectively. Plausible explanations for negative effects at small distances are fine-scale genetic structuring and competition for shared resources, whereas positive effects at large distances are likely due to increasing pollen limitation and suboptimal growth conditions. Finally, findings suggest that most field plots in Amazonia used for estimating carbon storage are too small to account for distance and density-dependent effects and hence may be inadequate for measuring species-centric ecosystem services.

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  • Fire- and distance-dependent recruitment of the Brazil nut in the Peruvian Amazon

Fire- and distance-dependent recruitment of the Brazil nut in the Peruvian Amazon

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The low natural regeneration of the Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) in the Madre de Dios region of Peru is a major concern for the conservation and sustainable use of this species which sustains one of the cornerstone non-timber forest product economies in Amazonia. The Brazil nut is a gap-dependent, long-lived pioneer species that has been shown to regenerate more effectively in fallows than in mature forests. Aside from light and nutrient availability, recruitment success of the species might also be influenced by conspecific negative distance-dependent (CNDD) processes as shown for a myriad of other tropical tree species, but to date has not been studied in the Brazil nut. We measured Brazil nut recruitment in forty 150×10 square meter transects (totaling 60 ha), proportionally laid out in mature forest and fallow land. We found a higher likelihood of regeneration in fallows than in mature forest, which was mainly due to more successful transitioning from seedlings to saplings in fallows. Recruitment rates in fallows increased with the number of fire events occurring over the past 12 years, largely owing to the accumulation of resprouting individuals, but this positive correlation was only observed up to three fire events. We observed CNDD recruitment of the Brazil nut in fallows but not in mature forest, suggesting that pests and diseases might also condition Brazil nut recruitment. Our findings suggest that a better management of fallow land and more controlled use of fire in neighboring land uses could be a cost-effective manner to create Brazil nut rich forests through natural regeneration. On the other hand, the absence of high density Brazil nut stands in mature forests in Madre de Dios might mean that the impact of ancient humans there has been more limited than in other Amazonian regions.

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  • Strengthening social inclusion within oil palm contract farming in the Brazilian Amazon

Strengthening social inclusion within oil palm contract farming in the Brazilian Amazon

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  • Despite its promotion of contract farming (widely considered to be a relatively pro-poor approach to agribusiness expansion), Brazil’s Sustainable Palm Oil Production Program (SPOPP) cannot be considered to be an inclusive development program in its current format. Findings suggest that land- and labor-constrained households are more likely to be excluded from contract farming under this program than other households.
  • Viable options to strengthen inclusivity within the program include permitting smallholders to develop smaller plantations, promoting intercropping and reducing barriers that currently prevent smallholders under the scheme from engaging external laborers.
  • Despite civil society concerns that contract farming could result in smallholders abandoning staple food crop production to focus only on oil palm, there is no evidence to date that contract farming under the SPOPP scheme has exacerbated smallholder food insecurity.
  • Results suggest that while smallholder performance ranges widely, from highly productive farms to near abandonment of oil palm plots, the majority of smallholders involved in the scheme have been unable to meet the performance expectations of oil palm companies.
  • To increase the likelihood of success amongst the 12% of smallholders at highest risk of credit default, additional support should be provided, for example in the form of targeted capacity-building initiatives or enabling management outsourcing arrangements where successful smallholders take over plantation management through production sharing arrangements.
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  • Revisiting the ‘cornerstone of Amazonian conservation’: a socioecological assessment of Brazil nut exploitation

Revisiting the ‘cornerstone of Amazonian conservation’: a socioecological assessment of Brazil nut exploitation

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The Brazil nut (the seeds of the rainforest tree Bertholletia excelsa) is the only globally traded seed collected from the wild by forest-based harvesters across the Amazon basin.

The large geographic scale of Brazil nut exploitation and the significant contributions to local livelihoods, national economies, and forest-based development over the last decades, merit a review of the “conservation-through-use” paradigm. We use Elinor Ostrom’s framework for assessing sustainability in socioecological systems: (1) resource unit, (2) users, (3) governance system, and (4) resource system, to determine how different contexts and external developments generate specific conservation and development outcomes.

We find that the resource unit reacts robustly to the type and level of extraction currently practiced; that resource users have built on a self-organized system that had defined boundaries and access to the resource; that linked production chains, market networks and informal financing work to supply global markets; and that local harvesters have used supporting alliances with NGOs and conservationists to formalize and secure their endogenous governance system and make it more equitable.

As a result, the Brazil nut model represents a socioecological system that may not require major changes to sustain productivity. Yet since long-term Brazil nut production seems inextricably tied to a continuous forest cover, and because planted Brazil nut trees currently provide a minimal contribution to total nut production basin-wide, we call to preserve, diversify and intensify production in Brazil nut-rich forests that will inevitably become ever more integrated within human-modified landscapes over time.

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  • Challenges and opportunities for the restoration of Andean forests

Challenges and opportunities for the restoration of Andean forests

In some parts of Ecuador, communities have started to change the landscape by clearing small patches of forest for crops and to feed their animals. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR
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The Andes mountain range as viewed from Ecuador. Restoration efforts are underway in Andean forests across the region. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR

Views on ecological restoration in the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

The tropical forests of the Andes in Latin America are key global ecosystems that make an extraordinary contribution to the world’s biodiversity and livelihoods. Andean forests are the source of huge rivers, and have more varied and unique species than the Amazon. But they are now are threatened by increasing demographic pressures, and by harvesting and production practices.

In the past decade, ecological restoration has become a vital strategy to recover the integrity and functionality of degraded ecosystems, to promote sustainable development, and to mitigate climate change.

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia — the countries hosting tropical Andean ecosystems — have each set quantitative restoration targets. But what has been the real progress in these countries? And what is happening to their Andean forests?

To understand developments in tropical Andean forest restoration, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Andean Forests Program — a regional initiative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), facilitated by a partnership between Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Condesan — undertook a comparative analysis to look at the progress, challenges and future prospects of Andean forest restoration in these four countries.

Over a period of 14 months, researchers examined academic, legal and policy documents and conducted more than 40 interviews. Their aim was to identify challenges and opportunities to guide the next steps in restoration policy and practice for Andean forests. The resulting analysis will prove essential in making the most of “unprecedented” levels of international attention and funds, says Manuel Guariguata, co-author of the study and leader of CIFOR’s Forest Management and Restoration Team.

“It is now essential to start the restoration process,” says Carolina Murcia, a senior researcher affiliated with the Pontifical Xavierian University in Colombia and lead author on the study. “We can’t afford to lose more natural capital; rather, it is time to start recovering it.”

Read more: Lessons from Latin America for forest landscape restoration

A peatland landscape is seen in Peru. Photo by R. Bhomia/CIFOR

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

A key finding of the study is heterogeneity among Andean forests. “Each of the four study countries has its own history, geography and socioeconomic situation, which determine its relationship with Andean forests and the restoration approach,” says Murcia.

Colombia is leading the movement, with 50 years’ experience in restoration and a historical focus on these forests: the Andes are home to 75% of country’s population, but are also fertile lands and a major source of its water. In addition, 70% of Colombia’s electricity is generated by water flowing through these forests.

The National Plan for Forest Restoration of Ecuador, for its part, identifies two priority criteria for fertile Andean areas: landslide prevention and water resource protection.

Meanwhile, the relationship of Peru and Bolivia to Andean forests is completely different. In Peru, these ecosystems, known as yungas, or “high rainforests”, originally covered 15% of the nation’s territory. With steep slopes and high moisture levels, they are seen as an area of passage to the Amazon. “In this region, all forests are often seen as ‘rainforests’ and are considered for harvesting purposes as a source of timber. Thus, restoration has also played a very discreet role,” says Murcia.

In Bolivia, there are large forest areas with low population density. According to the study, this “has resulted in a culture of abundance, where the notion of restoration does not even fit.” The current philosophy of the state, for example, “does not allow forest restoration outside a production scheme,” Murcia says.

Strangely, local people who have occupied the Bolivian highlands for decades are not aware of the disappearance of their forests. The study reveals that “the scarcity they may experience in periods of drought is not associated with loss or, therefore, restoration.” According to Murcia, all this shows why restoration is still in the early stages in Bolivia and Peru.

This heterogeneity in approaches to restoration is reflected in aspects such as policy frameworks, implementation mechanisms, and the links between decision-makers, biological resource managers, academia and civil society.

COMMON CHALLENGES

In spite of the differences, the four countries also face common challenges. The first is to integrate a new, holistic discipline such as ecological restoration into government policies ranging from natural resource management to development. Restoration, says Murcia, means much more than increasing forest cover and capturing carbon.

An additional challenge is to comply with international restoration commitments through national programs but with local implementation — something difficult when technical capacity, technology and information are limited.

Other challenges? One is the lack of a common definition. “What restoration means for one sector may not mean the same to another,” says Guariguata, mentioning the tasks of assessing the success or failure of programs, and meeting international targets such as the Bonn Challenge. In his view, there is also a need to develop a unified vision of the discipline, which is currently fragmented into sectors such as environment, agriculture and indigenous peoples.

Restoration is a long-term process, which can take from six to ten decades to consolidate. Success, says Murcia, cannot be achieved without community commitment, and structures for management and budgetary administration that go beyond presidential terms and “protect initiatives against political whims.”

Read more: Learning from women’s and men’s perspectives on agroforestry to enhance climate change strategies and actions in Latin America

In some parts of Ecuador, communities have started to change the landscape by clearing small patches of forest for crops and to feed their animals. Photo by T. Munita/CIFOR

NEXT STEPS

Although one of the international targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as Aichi #15, is to restore 15% of the ecosystems degraded by 2020, the study sets a more realistic objective: each country should start from this commitment, ensuring that in 50 years these ecosystems will be on an appropriate path of restoration for biodiversity. This means recovering the variety of species, not recovering the land for production purposes, says Murcia.

To achieve community commitment, she considers it essential to secure land tenure and to report both the effects of degradation of forest landscapes and the benefits of their recovery.

“Restoration works! What needs to be done is to guide communities and understand the social and economic drivers of degradation,” she says.

In addition, the participation of the academic sector and NGOs in program design needs to be strengthened. Verónica Gálmez, Andean Forests Program incidence coordinator, explains that “NGOs act as hinges between local and national actors and provide an overall view of territorial and sectoral levels.”

According to Gálmez, the study can help prioritize interventions and investments and determine baselines. Thus, dissemination actions are planned for the various countries.

Murcia, like Gálmez, views the future with optimism. The reason? Communities’ growing interest in recovering their forested landscapes. “In the end, restoration is much more than planting trees. It is about turning the relationship between people and nature into something positive.”

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Guariguata at [email protected] or Carolina Murcia at [email protected].


 This research was prepared by CIFOR and the Andean Forests Program, facilitated by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Condesan and financially supported by CIFOR through the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors, and by the Department for International Development (DFID) through the KNOWFOR program. The Andean Forests Program is part of the Global Programme on Climate Change of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

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  • Are Brazil nuts the saviors of the Amazon basin?

Are Brazil nuts the saviors of the Amazon basin?

Brazil nut fruits are piled up, ready to be hacked open to extract the nuts. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR
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A worker processes Brazil nuts in Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

Study reexamines the Amazon region’s ‘cornerstone of conservation’.

Want to invest directly in the preservation of the Amazon? Buying Brazil nuts might well be your simplest strategy, says Peter Cronkleton, coauthor of a new study that assesses Brazil nut exploitation from a socioecological perspective.

The weighty, nutritious nuts seem something of a poster child for the concept of ‘conservation through use’. The trees they grow on are Amazonian forest giants that can reach over 50 meters in height and live up to 400 years.

The softball-sized fruit – each containing around 20 nuts – are collected from the forest floor in rainy months by forest-based harvesters, who maintain customary rights to the resource in many areas.

As coauthor Amy Duchelle confirms, “it’s something that’s sustaining thousands of families in that region, while essentially giving value to standing forest.” It’s a relatively sustainable system, she says – but one that’s under threat.

SAME FOREST, DIFFERENT FRAMEWORKS

The southwestern Amazon region in which most Brazil nuts grow spans three countries: Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. Prior to the 20th century, the area was not clearly defined by national boundaries, but was held by rubber barons and populated by their laborers, Cronkleton explains.

When boundaries were established, different political frameworks affected how people defined access, what types of rights they had in the forest, and how well they were linked to national markets, he says. “So to a certain extent it’s a natural experiment showing how people adapt under different forest governance contexts in each country.”

Freshly harvested Brazil nuts await processing in Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

As Duchelle adds, “it’s really interesting: you’ve got a similar forest ecosystem, but the way it’s being used is totally different just by crossing the border. We’re talking about 30 kilometers [between some study sites] and it’s a completely different world.”

On the Brazilian side of the border, in the state of Acre, Brazil nuts are “just one component of a much more diverse livelihood portfolio,” says Duchelle. The recent construction of new roads and infrastructure, coupled with a strong cattle culture, is increasing the temptation for locals to clear forested land for cattle ranching at the expense of Brazil nut-rich forest.

In neighboring Pando, Bolivia, communities are much more reliant on the Brazil nut harvest, as it’s “really one of the main livelihood activities they’ve got going on,” she says. There, a more pressing issue is contested and incomplete titles to Brazil nut tree stands, which make it difficult for residents to claim and defend their resources, adds Cronkleton.

Read more: What’s in a land title?

Similarly, he explains, in the adjacent Madre de Dios region of Peru, the complex concession system poses challenges, because concession areas for Brazil nut harvesting are not always well-defined, and often overlap with those for agriculture and mining, all of which can drive deforestation. On top of this, regulations for Brazil nut extraction and other forest products such as timber often generate conflict of use within the same concession forest.

Lead author Manuel Guariguata, a Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), adds that “our study is so far the only one drawing together a comprehensive set of literature representing the three countries which produce all of the Brazil nut consumed globally. Although there have been many studies that examined different aspects of Brazil nuts across the Amazon basin, these usually have taken a more narrow focus.”

Brazil nut fruits are piled up, ready to be hacked open to extract the nuts. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

THREATS AND OPPORTUNITIES

While Brazil nut trees are protected from logging by law in all three countries, intensive deforestation in surrounding areas can affect the productivity of the trees, explains ecologist Pieter Zuidema, another coauthor of the study. It can also affects harvesters’ ability to cope with the high natural variation in Brazil nut tree productivity from year to year.

Usually, in low-yield years, “what Brazil nut harvesters do is go deeper into the forest [to look for nuts]. With increasing deforestation, that potential is not there anymore. So it reduces the resilience of the whole system,” says Zuidema.

However, he adds, defending Brazil nut-rich forest does not necessarily mean preventing people from doing anything else there. If done well, integrated management of multiple forest uses, such as low-intensity timber harvest and ecotourism, combined with Brazil nut harvesting, could prove both profitable and sustainable.

Read more: Moving past tree planting, expanding our definition of forests and restoration

The UN-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme also offers an opportunity to make Brazil nut-rich forest preservation more financially viable, through initiatives that compensate locals for keeping forests standing. This will likely require more clarity about people’s rights to land and trees, as well as how benefits are distributed, agree Duchelle and Cronkleton.

Stabilizing international prices for the nuts may also help the system remain viable. Often seen as the ‘poor cousin’ of high-end products such as hazelnuts, Brazil nut prices rise and fall erratically around the fortunes of other nut types, says Cronkleton. Enhancing state and private-sector support for the resource system, and broadening Brazil nut consumption through building consumer awareness of their health benefits, seem important pieces of the puzzle.

AN ETHICAL, EDIBLE INVESTMENT

So back to those heavy, dense nuts in the mixed-nuts packs and the health-food shops. It’s true, they’re inconveniently bigger than bite-size, admits Cronkleton, and they may not have the sweetness of almonds, or the creaminess of cashews.

But they’re high in selenium (a trace element with antioxidant properties that is deficient in many soils) and the fatty acids that help reduce heart disease. And what other Amazonian forest product could you buy with such confidence in the social and environmental ethics of your purchase?

Duchelle confesses that she doesn’t really like the taste of them any more, after eating far too many, fresh off the forest floor, during her fieldwork in the region. “But I eat them anyway!” she proclaims with laughter and conviction, “Because it’s a way to support Amazonian livelihoods.”

By Monica Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Guariguata at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID)

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  • NTFP harvesters as citizen scientists: Validating traditional and crowdsourced knowledge on seed production of Brazil nut trees in the Peruvian Amazon

NTFP harvesters as citizen scientists: Validating traditional and crowdsourced knowledge on seed production of Brazil nut trees in the Peruvian Amazon

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Understanding the factors that underlie the production of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), as well as regularly monitoring production levels, are key to allow sustainability assessments of NTFP extractive economies. Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa, Lecythidaceae) seed harvesting from natural forests is one of the cornerstone NTFP economies in Amazonia. In the Peruvian Amazon it is organized in a concession system. Drawing on seed production estimates of >135,000 individual Brazil nut trees from >400 concessionsand ethno-ecological interviews with >80 concession holders, here we aimed to (i) assess the accuracy of seed production estimates by Brazil nut seed harvesters, and (ii) validate their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) about the variables that influence Brazil nut production.

We compared productivity estimates with actual field measurements carried out in the study area and found a positive correlation between them. Furthermore, we compared the relationships between seed production and a number of phenotypic, phytosanitary and environmental variables described in literature with those obtained for the seed production estimates and found high consistency between them, justifying the use of the dataset for validating TEK and innovative hypothesis testing. As expected, nearly all TEK on Brazil nut productivity was corroborated by our data. This is reassuring as Brazil nut concession holders, and NTFP harvesters at large, rely on their knowledge to guide the management of the trees upon which their extractive economies are based. Our findings suggest that productivity estimates of Brazil nut trees and possibly other NTFP-producing species could replace or complement actual measurements, which are very expensive and labour intensive, at least in areas where harvesters have a tradition of collecting NTFPs from the same trees over multiple years or decades. Productivity estimates might even be sourced from harvesters through registers on an annual basis, thus allowing a more cost-efficient and robust monitoring of productivity levels.

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  • Can REDD+ help Brazil roll back rising deforestation rates?

Can REDD+ help Brazil roll back rising deforestation rates?

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A site of deforestation is seen from the air in Brazil. Photo by CIFOR

In Brazil, the role of REDD+ in stemming deforestation since 2004 is unclear — as is its potential for reversing the recent upward trend.

Land-use change represents more than 60 percent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the Amazon accounts for 65.2 percent of that amount, according to government figures, although those numbers are sometimes contested. Much of the deforestation in the country stems from the promotion of private enterprises, particularly ranching, timber and mining.

Since the 1980s, Brazil has taken steps to reduce deforestation, with the greatest success occurring between 2004 and 2016, when the rate decreased by 71 percent. Some of those measures involved actions for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

Whether that improvement will be sustainable in the long run is unclear, however, as there was a recent sharp increase in deforestation rates.

A new Brazil country profile, produced as part of a Global Comparative Study of REDD+ led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), examines the drivers of deforestation in Brazil and efforts to solve the problem.

This third edition provides a fully updated overview of conditions affecting environmental policy for REDD+ in the Brazilian Amazon through 2015, when Brazil submitted its National REDD+ Strategy (ENREDD+) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

How did Brazil slow deforestation?

Reducing deforestation became a Brazilian government priority even before international climate agreements incorporated REDD+ schemes for reducing GHG emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation. International scrutiny, combined with pressure from Amazonian rubber tappers who make their living from the forest, led successive governments to tackle the problem, albeit with limited success.

In 2003, Brazil submitted a proposal for “compensated reduction” under the UNFCCC, calling for compensation by developed countries for less-developed countries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to land-use change in tropical forests and promote sustainable land management.

Over the next dozen years, a combination of incentives and disincentives to keep the forest standing and more effective law enforcement through command and control measures led to a dramatic drop in deforestation, especially in the “deforestation arc” around the southern and southeastern edge of the Amazon.

An aerial view of the Amazon rainforest is seen near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT for CIFOR

In 2015, Brazil officially submitted its National REDD+ Strategy to the UNFCCC. By then, many REDD+ pilot initiatives and related policies had already been implemented.

There are several clear reasons for Brazil’s success in decreasing deforestation.

First, the country’s sophisticated monitoring system provides real-time information about land use change to Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). This has reinforced command and control measures on the ground.

Meanwhile, reduction of deforestation became policy with the Action Plan to Prevent and Control Deforestation in the Amazon (PPCDAm), whose implementation began in 2004. The designation of several protected areas between 2002 and 2010, alongside new policies in 2007 and 2008 that targeted a “federal blacklist” of municipalities with critical deforestation rates, were crucial in reducing unprecedented levels of deforestation.

Finally, a series of demand-side measures (including multi-stakeholder round tables, zero-deforestation agreements and trade embargoes) began playing a key role in slowing deforestation.

Read also: Managing degraded forests, a new priority in the Brazilian Amazon

Deforestation on the rise again

But the problem is reemerging. Current deforestation rates in the Amazon are the highest in the past four years.

Between August 2014 and July 2015, Brazil clear-cut 6,207 square kilometers, a 24 percent increase over the previous period. Amid turbulent political events, national policy is now moving in the opposite direction, including several new constitutional amendments that threaten forests and the environment.

The Forest Law passed in 2012 granted amnesty to landowners who deforested illegally before 2008. Meanwhile, a measure requiring farmers to register rural properties and restore or provide compensation for illegally-deforested areas has been delayed twice.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215 would require Congress to approve the demarcation of indigenous lands, while Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 65 would facilitate licensing of major infrastructure projects without adequate evaluation and mitigation of environmental impacts. That is of particular concern, because of proposals to build 334 dams throughout the Amazon Basin.

More than one million square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon have also been registered for mining, which would threaten forests.

Meanwhile, the number of conservation units in the Amazon has been reduced, leading to an increase in illegal occupation, while a lack of financial resources is hampering on-site monitoring of deforestation.

And much of the deforestation has shifted to the Cerrado, a tropical savanna ecosystem east of the Amazon, which is now under enormous pressure, but receives far less attention than the Amazon forest.

Until recently, the Cerrado was not considered in REDD+ programs or other policies for combating deforestation, and it remains to be seen whether new policies will successfully address the land-use-change challenges there.

REDD+ strategy still at an early stage 

Brazil’s National REDD+ Strategy, known as ENREDD+, is aimed at reducing illegal deforestation; conserving and restoring forest systems; and generating economic, social and environmental co-benefits.

The strategy calls for more monitoring and for convergence among policies (climate, forests and biodiversity) by 2020, as well as increased financing and benefit-sharing for REDD+ strategies.

ENREDD+ will be guided by the National Policy for Climate Change and the Forest Code. It identifies three sectoral plans as the primary channels for implementing REDD+: PPCDAm; the Action Plan to Prevent and Control Deforestation and Fire in the Brazilian Cerrado (PPCerrado); and the Plan for Low Carbon Agriculture (ABC).

The Amazon rainforest is pictured in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT for CIFOR

The strategy supplements these plans with cross-cutting measures, including a financial architecture for REDD+ and a set of safeguards designed to ensure that REDD+ actions do not inflict social or environmental harm.

It is not yet clear, however, what types of measures Brazil will concentrate on to implement REDD+, coordinate national and sub-national efforts, and guarantee that safeguards are in place. Detailed regulation of these issues was left to the National REDD+ Entity and its Thematic Consultation Chambers, which are still in the early stages of designing specific principles and procedures.

And evidence is still scant about the potential of sub-national initiatives to reduce deforestation, with little coordination demonstrated among the initiatives.

Read also: ‘Turning the onus of restoration into a bonus for farmers’ in Brazil

As a result, disagreements between federal and state government agencies and a lack of definition regarding financing, benefit-sharing and safeguards for local initiatives pose significant obstacles to implementation of ENREDD+.

There is an urgent need for stakeholders at all levels to join forces to ensure a more appropriate structure and strategy for the National REDD+ Entity and its Thematic Consultation Chambers and to clarify how ENREDD+ will be put into practice.

Policies must prevent backsliding

Although Brazil has reduced emissions in recent years, it is difficult to determine how much of this was due to REDD+ initiatives. Besides analyzing performance indicators for results at each phase of REDD+, this would require an assessment of co-benefits, such as improved forest governance and poverty reduction.

REDD+ was supposed to provide benefits that would overcome the limitations of “command and control” measures. Instead, however, the ENREDD+ is mainly based on government policies and previous national efforts to reduce deforestation, such as increasing monitoring and reinstating old practices of forest conservation.

It is difficult to imagine how much of the remaining “residual” deforestation can be curbed through increased command and control, especially considering the recent opening of the Brazilian beef market to the US and China.

In its REDD+ interventions, Brazil should strive for a clearer understanding of the fundamental processes and practices that drive deforestation, such as the growing extra-local and international demand for forest and agricultural commodities, subsidies from outside the forest sector that encourage the production of such commodities, and the multifaceted and evolving issues of the different actors that are the target of these incentives. ENREDD+ has yet to clarify the role of these actors, especially the private sector.

These tasks are crucial to ensure that Brazil does not turn back the clock on its battle against deforestation.

By Maria Fernanda Gebara, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Maria Fernanda Gebara at [email protected], Peter May at [email protected] or Maria Brockhaus at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Reclaiming collective rights: land and forest tenure reforms in Peru (1960-2016)

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Overview

In Peru, since 1974, more than 1,200 communities have been titled in the Amazon for over 12 million hectares, representing about 20% of the country’s national forest area. This working paper analyzes policy and regulatory changes that have influenced how indigenous peoples access, use and manage forest and land resources in the Peruvian Amazon during the last fifty years. It reviews the main motivations behind changes, the institutional structures defined by law and the outcomes of these changes in practice.

The paper discusses political priorities related to land and forest tenure, social actors involved in reform debates and the mechanisms used for recognizing indigenous rights claims. The paper argues that there has not been a single reform process in Peru; instead multiple reforms have shaped forest tenure rights, contributing to both progress and setbacks for indigenous people and communities. This working paper is part of a global comparative research initiative that is analyzing reform processes that recognize collective tenure rights to forests and land in six countries in highly forested regions.


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