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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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  • Relationships Between Ecosystem Services: Comparing Methods for Assessing Tradeoffs and Synergies

Relationships Between Ecosystem Services: Comparing Methods for Assessing Tradeoffs and Synergies

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Understanding the interactions between the multiple ecosystem services (ES) which can be delivered from a single landscape is essential. Most studies on ES relationships use spatial or temporal statistical analysis (for example: correlations between services). Methods from microeconomic theory have recently received attention for describing ES relationships. The nature and intensity of ES relationships can be assessed by fitting a production possibility frontier that indicates the maximum amount of one ES that can be produced by landscape, for different levels of another ES. This study estimates production frontiers empirically, and compares the ES relationships insights gained this way with those inferred from correlation approaches. InVEST software was used to model and map the provision of six ES in the Reventazón watershed in Costa Rica. Spatial and temporal ES correlation patterns were analyzed for four observed land uses/land covers (LULC). Production frontiers were constructed using a set of 32 simulated scenarios. Production frontier was the most sensitive method for detecting ES relationships. The nature and intensity of ES relationships revealed depended on the analytic methods used. In comparison with correlations, the production frontier approach provided additional information relating to tradeoff intensity and Pareto efficient LULC configurations.

Access the document: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2018.04.002

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  • Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters

Secrets of the Mutis Honey Hunters

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In the Mount Mutis valley in West Timor, Indonesia, there lives a people with a tradition of hunting. They do not hunt deer or wild boar, but honey. As a non-timber forest product, Mount Mutis honey provides supplementary income for its harvesters’ livelihoods. And because honey production relies on a healthy forest environment, there is an extra economic incentive to ensure protection of the ecosystem it depends on.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Taking stock of ecosystem services in the mountains of southern Asia

Taking stock of ecosystem services in the mountains of southern Asia

Ribangkadeng village in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, is pictured from the air. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR
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A mountainous landscape is seen from above in Lampung, Indonesia. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

Mountain forest ecosystems provide a wide range of benefits, not only to local residents, but to those living downstream: from reducing floods to stabilizing slopes and supporting rich biodiversity.

Understanding these contributions is key to sustainably managing mountain forest services — but large-scale assessments are still rare, especially in data-poor regions.

In response, scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner institutions, including from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), compiled in a new working paper the most relevant tools and approaches to assess the sociocultural, economic and ecological values of mountain forest ecosystems, with a focus on southern Asia.

“This working paper wants to help researchers and land managers understand the various assessment methods, so that they are able apply them in their own countries and landscapes,” says lead author and CIFOR senior scientist, Himlal Baral of FTA.

Understanding the direct and indirect benefits of forest ecosystems to human well-being is important globally, but especially so in mountainous areas, as illustrated in the paper by case studies in Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Iran and Nepal.

Steep slopes and elevation create geographical barriers to accessing mountain forest landscapes, meaning that “local communities are isolated from urban areas, and so rely heavily on mountain forest ecosystem services for basic needs such as food,” explains Baral. In many cases, mountain people are also more vulnerable to climate change and poverty, he says.

At the same time, natural geographical barriers often result in communities with their own distinct cultures and social systems, and in “more primary forests, higher carbon stocks and richer biodiversity compared with lowland areas,” states the paper.

Read also: Approaches and tools for assessing mountain forest ecosystem services

MULTIPLE TOOLS

Gauging stakeholders’ perspectives, analyzing markets and scenario modeling are three ways of assessing ecosystem services. “Some of these approaches are simple, user-friendly and readily available,” Baral points out. “Even people with little experience and technical expertise can use them.”

The various tools falling into these three categories are differentiated in terms of required data, technical capacity, time and cost, and “have their own strengths of being able to assess a particular value,” notes the paper.

This means they can be jointly implemented to assess multiple values of mountain forest ecosystem services, and to shed light on the trade-offs and synergies between them. For example, “restoration efforts to enhance one service could compromise — or improve — another service.”

A case study in Nepal’s community forests, for instance, illustrates the combination of free-access satellite images, repeat photography, and participatory approaches to engaging local communities and experts.

The paper indicates this three-pronged approach “can be used to quickly map and prioritize ecosystem services’ values,” and to demonstrate the positive impact of restoration efforts over the last two decades.

In Bhutan, a tool known as benefit-transfer showed that the average total value of forest ecosystem services was over USD 14.5 billion per year, while in India, stakeholder and household analyses revealed that local livelihoods near the Maguri Mottapung wetland hinge on 29 ecosystem services — something that “suggests the urgent need for a participatory management plan engaging local communities.”

Ribangkadeng village in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, is pictured from the air. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

JOINT LEARNING

For Laxmi Dutt Bhatta, a senior ecosystem management specialist at ICIMOD and co-author of the paper, the assessment of ecosystem services is key to “showing the overall value of forests to countries and communities; to following up their evolution, and to informing decision-making.”

Co-author Sonam Phuntsho, who is a senior forestry officer at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER), agrees: “Forests are a critical natural asset in Bhutan, where the majority of the population directly depends on forests for various services. But there is very limited information on their value so far.”

From Phuntsho’s perspective, having an overview of studies and methodologies in the region is now “extremely useful” for the country, as payment for ecosystem services is gradually picking up.

In Indonesia, the so-called Q methodology has helped lay the ground for payment of ecosystem services by identifying stakeholders’ anticipated benefits and concerns, while the study in Nepal “could be very much replicated in Bhutan, given the rapid increase in community forests,” Phuntso says.

Read also: Forest Landscape Restoration in Hilly and Mountainous Regions: Special Issue

NEXT STEPS

Assessing mountain forest ecosystem services brings opportunities, but also challenges that must be reflected in assessment design.

These include the complexity of defining and classifying ecosystem services, intricate relationships among services including trade-offs and synergies, and the limitation of assessments to build successful payments for services.

Bhatta highlights two additional issues that will have to be addressed to understand the evolution of such services in the next 50 years: uncertainties associated with climate change and the scarcity of data on mountain forest ecosystem services, especially in data-poor regions such as South Asian mountains, and the Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Despite these challenges, lead author Himlal Baral is hopeful about the future of ecosystem service-based management. “In the past, forests just meant timber to many, but awareness is increasing,” he says.

“Now, a growing number of people associate forests with mitigation of climate change, water, biodiversity and landslide protection, so we are moving in the right direction.”

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

For more information on this topic, please contact Himlal Baral 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 Austrian Development Agency (ADA).

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  • Approaches and tools for assessing mountain forest ecosystem services

Approaches and tools for assessing mountain forest ecosystem services

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Mountain forest ecosystems provide a wide range of direct and indirect contributions to the people who live in the mountains and surrounding areas. Occupying steep slopes at high elevation, these ecosystems provide services such as stabilizing slopes, regulating hydrological cycles, maintaining rich biodiversity and supporting the livelihoods of those who are diverse in culture but vulnerable to poverty and food security. This paper (i) reviews several tools for assessing the sociocultural, economic and ecological values of mountain forest ecosystem services, (ii) demonstrates case studies of tool applications from several countries namely, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Iran and Nepal, and (iii) discusses assessment challenges that should be considered in the application of these tools.

In Bhutan, an application of benefit transfer showed that the average total value of forest ecosystem services was over USD 14.5 billion per year. In India, an application of stakeholder and household analyses indicated that a total of 29 different ecosystem services are available and sustain livelihoods of local communities near the Maguri Mottapung wetland. In Indonesia, an application of Q methodology identified anticipated benefits and concerns of forest watershed stakeholders related to certification applications for a payment for ecosystem services. In Iran, an application of the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs Tool showed that the regulation of ecosystem services has been declining in Hyrcanian forests despite the forests’ critical roles in the region. In Nepal, an application of a spatial analytical approach and participatory assessment techniques identified key mountain ecosystem services for community forests at the Charnawolti sub-watershed of Dolakha, and demonstrated forest restoration on degraded lands over the last two decades. Several challenges exist for the assessment of mountain forest ecosystem services and these must be reflected in assessment design. These challenges include the complexity of defining and classifying ecosystem services; limited availability of data on ecosystem services; uncertainties associated with climate change; complex relationships among services including trade-offs and synergies; and limitation of assessments to build successful payments for ecosystem services.

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  • The jumbo carbon footprint of shrimp

The jumbo carbon footprint of shrimp

Mangroves grow along the coast of West Bali National Park, Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
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A mangrove ecosystem is seen in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR

Is eating a kilogram of shrimp worth 1600 kilos of greenhouse emissions?

You’re having dinner with your date. You both order the ‘surf and turf’ special: a shrimp appetizer and a steak. You might not know it, but the carbon footprint of your meal is mind-boggling massive.

If the beef and seafood came from the tropics, where mangroves once grew, the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the two dinners alone would be roughly equivalent to driving from Los Angeles to New York City and back – a massive 1632 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Or, to put it another way, those greenhouse gas emissions would weigh about as much as the car you drove to the restaurant.

To come up with these numbers, scientists – including some CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) – spent seven years working in muddy mangrove forests from Southeast Asia to Central America.

Across the tropics, mangrove forests are being cleared to make way for agriculture and aquaculture. Found on the frontier of land and sea, their seaward sides are converted to shrimp ponds, while their drier edges are claimed and drained to become rice fields or cattle pastures.

The scientists examined 55 sites where that conversion is happening, in Indonesia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. It’s the first time that a carbon-footprint study has taken into account the greenhouse gas emissions that result from deforestation.

When the researchers made their final calculations, even they were surprised.

Read also: The jumbo carbon footprint of a shrimp: carbon losses from mangrove deforestation

For every kilogram of beef produced on land that was converted from mangrove forest, 1440 kilograms of climate-altering greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere. For shrimp (more widely known as ‘prawns’ in the U.K. and Australia), it’s even worse: 1603 kg of emissions per kilo of crustacean.

“We were astounded that the carbon footprints were as high as they were,” says lead author Boone Kauffman, a mangrove expert from Oregon State University.

A Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researcher stands in a research site for the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP), in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR

OUT-SIZED EMISSIONS

So why the out-sized emissions?

Mangrove forests store a lot more carbon than terrestrial tropical forests, because they sequester a huge amount in the soil – in some cases up to 98 percent of the carbon stocks in a mangrove ecosystem can be underground.

When those forests are cut and drained, carbon isn’t just lost through the breakdown of leaves, twigs and branches. All that carbon in the soil is also released – and not just at the surface. The study found that deforestation could release carbon stored up to three meters below ground.

Read also: Focus on mangroves: Blue carbon science for sustainable development

That’s why mangroves may account for as much as 12 percent of the total emissions for all tropical deforestation, Kauffman says, even though they only make up 0.6 percent of the land area occupied by tropical forests.

“You’re losing centuries of carbon sequestration in just a few years of land use,” says Kauffman.

That’s the other big problem with these conversions – shrimp ponds in particular have very short life spans. Disease, soil acidification, pollution, and market conditions tend to limit their use to just three to nine years (the scientists assumed a conservative nine years for the purposes of the study, meaning that the actual carbon footprint of some shrimp may be even higher).

Once the area is exhausted, the ponds are abandoned – and the farmers move on to next patch of mangroves. 

A SIMPLE QUESTION

CIFOR Principal Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso’s research in Indonesia has shown just how much carbon mangrove ecosystems can lock away.

“They store twice as much carbon per hectare compared with terrestrial forests – and in some cases five to six times as much,” he says.

New research is showing that emissions can be reduced during mangrove conversion by limiting the exposure of excavated soil to the air, but finding ways to reduce rampant mangrove deforestation is even more important.

Murdiyarso helped to conceptualise the carbon footprint study with Kauffman.

They wanted to find a way to make the climate impact of mangrove deforestation more easily understood.

“When scientists talk about the role that deforestation plays in climate change, scientists tend to talk about the global picture – petagrams, gigatons, a billion metric tonnes of carbon – and the public can’t really grasp that,” Kauffman says.

“So instead of scaling up to the global, we decided we would try to scale it down to an individual dinner – to report the influences of deforestation at the personal scale.”

Watch: Is your shrimp cocktail destroying the planet?

Mangroves grow along the coast of West Bali National Park, Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

To make the calculations, the researchers compared the carbon stocks in shrimp ponds or cattle pastures with nearby patches of intact mangrove forest.

That was harder than it sounds – they had to clamber through aerial mangrove roots to measure trees, gather every stick of downed wood, and collect muddy soil samples to take back to the lab.

“It brings the child out in you if you like being in the mud,” jokes Kauffman.

But that hard work had a very serious objective.

“We spent seven years on this project to make sure that we got it right,” Kauffman says.

“We are faced with such unprecedented environmental problems, particularly the threats of climate change and its possible environmental and social ramifications.”

“So it’s really important that we convey our science in a way in which the public can comprehend, so they can see how their daily activities affect climate change, and they can manage their lives accordingly.”

The result is a study that uses solid, real-world data from a broad range of sites across the tropics, with the aim of making people think about one simple question: Is a kilogram of shrimp worth 1600 kilos of greenhouse emissions?

By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Boone Kauffman at [email protected] or Daniel Murdiyarso at [email protected].


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


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