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  • Multi-level governance and power in climate change policy networks

Multi-level governance and power in climate change policy networks

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This article proposes an innovative theoretical framework that combines institutional and policy network approaches to study multi-level governance. The framework is used to derive a number of propositions on how cross-level power imbalances shape communication and collaboration across multiple levels of governance. The framework is then applied to examine the nature of cross-level interactions in climate change mitigation and adaptation policy processes in the land use sectors of Brazil and Indonesia. The paper identifies major barriers to cross-level communication and collaboration between national and sub-national levels. These are due to power imbalances across governance levels that reflect broader institutional differences between federal and decentralized systems of government. In addition, powerful communities operating predominantly at the national level hamper cross-level interactions. The analysis also reveals that engagement of national level actors is more extensive in the mitigation and that of local actors in the adaptation policy domain, and specialisation in one of the climate change responses at the national level hampers effective climate policy integration in the land use sector.

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  • Subnational decision-making needed for climate gains

Subnational decision-making needed for climate gains

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A man walks in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Global climate negotiations take place on the international stage, bolstered by countries’ national policies. But preventing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and other land-use changes requires work at the local level.

For those efforts to be effective, it is important to understand who is involved at each level and in every sector, and how they interact, say scientists from CIFOR, who have conducted research about such multi-level governance.

“Land use and land-use change happen in a geographic space that is affected by multiple levels of decision making,” says senior scientist Anne Larson, who heads CIFOR’s Equal Opportunities, Gender, Justice and Tenure Team. “You can’t talk about land-use change or climate change adaptation and mitigation if you don’t take into account all levels, from the global to the ground”.

That means that local and regional governments, as well as local communities, have an important role to play in REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) initiatives – or other, similar efforts, Larson says. “There’s a lot of talk at climate negotiations about bottom-up planning, and that must be done below the national level” she adds, “We can’t expect global decisions to have an impact if we don’t have sub-national governments that can implement and manage plans in local jurisdictions”.

That assumes coordination among various groups with different interests. Depending on the place, they may include government agencies (with different sectoral priorities), private companies, local communities and non-governmental organizations. But sub-national coordination is easier to discuss than to implement, according to researchers who are conducting a global comparative study on REDD+.

Risks and opportunities

One obstacle arises when governments are only partly decentralized. This invariably leads to subnational governments who have “authority” but without resources to carry out their mandate. In some cases, national governments are reluctant to give up control to local or regional governments, even when power-sharing is established by law. In Mexico, the federal government maintains a great deal of decision-making power over forests — something that must be considered when implementing programs at a local level.

Another risk is that local or regional governments could favor the interests of economically powerful private companies over those of local communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods. But in the same instance, local governments may be more willing to protect their interests as they are often more responsive to their citizens.

When there are tensions among stakeholders, it can be tempting to do top-down planning that focuses on technical solutions and faster results. But when that was done in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia’s REDD+ pilot province, local people felt that they were “guinea pigs” in an experiment instead of active participants, studies found.

Processes that ensure the involvement of local people, instead of seeing them as “beneficiaries,” and that protect the rights of forest-dwelling communities may take longer and be more complex, but the outcomes are often more equitable, according to research conducted in Vietnam. In many places, local communities — especially women, young people and indigenous people — have been marginalized from decisions. Giving them a central place in decision making builds their negotiating skills and can create new local venues for discussing local issues, the researchers say. “When decision-making is done at a sub-national level, transparency and accountability are key”, Larson says. “That requires monitoring, but the kind of monitoring depends on your goals”.

Read more: Does the monitoring of local governance improve transparency? Lessons from three approaches in subnational jurisdictions

Different tools for different needs

The Marechal Rondon Highway runs 1550 km from Porto Velho to Cuiabá in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR

When local stakeholders from different sectors are involved in developing monitoring processes, local priotities are discussed- says Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti, a postdoctoral fellow at CIFOR working on the global comparative study of REDD+. He and other researchers examining sub-national landscape governance implemented three different types of monitoring tools in Peru, Mexico and Nicaragua.

The Sustainable Landscape Rating Tool (SLRT) uses evidence-based evaluation of conditions as indiactors, to determine sustainability in land-use planning and management, land and resource tenure, biodiversity and other ecosystem services, stakeholder coordination and participation, and community production systems.

The SLRT was developed by the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance and is being used by jurisdictions belonging to the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force. Aimed at fostering governance policies for sustainability, the tool is mainly designed to assess the enabling conditions required. Its success depends on the availability of the information required by each indicator, which can be an obstacle in jurisdictions where data are lacking.

The Multilevel Governance Monitoring Process (MLGMP) grew out of scenario-building processes that assessed carbon emissions in eight landscapes in four countries. The prototype was designed in Peru’s Amazonian Madre de Dios region, where land-use planning and governance is complicated by social conflicts related to overlapping land claims by loggers, miners, farmers, tourism operators and others.

The process brought people together to develop a shared vision for the future and set goals for working toward it. In Madre de Dios, representatives of seven government agencies participated in workshops to identify potential indicators and strategies for monitoring, but the process was hampered by lack of commitment by key regional government officials.

A similar process in Mexico involved national and sub-national government agencies, as well as civil society groups, donors, community representatives and researchers. At workshops in the Yucatán and Chiapas, participants identified and prioritized challenges to good governance, set goals and agreed on indicators for measuring progress.

The tool can be adapted to local needs and priorities, but participants said the one-day workshops were not sufficient to work out details, including how the monitoring would be implemented and by whom. The workshops also revealed differences in levels of participation by women, which should be addressed in monitoring, the researchers said.

A third tool, the Participatory Governance Monitoring Process (PGMP), was designed to better involve local people in forest governance and strengthen women’s participation in decision making in their communities. It was developed as part of a research project in indigenous communities and territories in Nicaragua’s North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region.

Participants gathered together to decide what ‘good governance’ was. Characteristics such as a strong community, good leaders, more participation by women and good forest management were agreed, before a series of ‘yes-or-no’ questions determined whether the requirements were being met.

Using the questions as indicators, the results informed a tool that builds local community participation into both planning and monitoring, says Sarmiento. “This can be used to determine the degree of local participation, especially by women”.

The three tools have different purposes, and the best to use in a particular case depends on the local situation and specific monitoring goals, Larson adds.

Global commitments require local implementation

At the Paris climate summit in 2015, countries made commitments to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Those commitments, known as Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs), will be used to measure their progress toward their targets.

In countries whose NDCs include reducing emissions by controlling deforestation and forest degradation, sub-national governments must play a key role, Sarmiento says.Nevertheless, countries with REDD+ commitments do not always highlight the importance of sub-national governance in their NDCs. Of the 60 countries that have REDD+ programs or strategies, only 39 mention sub-national governments. Of those, 21 define a specific role for them, but in only seven NDCs is that a decision-making role, according to a CIFOR study.

“This could be a missed opportunity,” Larson says.  “Climate negotiators hail the Paris agreement as a ‘bottom-up’ accord, but what they consider to be the bottom is usually the national level,” Sarmiento says. “Implementation won’t work without attention to sub-national governance.”

Research like the CIFOR studies reveals both the difficulty of bringing stakeholders from different sectors and levels of government together. They also unearth the opportunities offered by participatory approaches that enable local communities to make decisions together with sub-national governments, with the goal of ensuring equitable solutions for forest dwellers.

“Governance always has a local flavor to it,” Sarmiento says. “That is why its monitoring needs to be informed by local people’s practices and their perceptions of what it means to govern well.”

Read more: Jurisdictional sustainability report assesses outcomes for tropical forests and climate change

By Barbara Fraser, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at or Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti at

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

This research was supported by NORAD and BMUB/IKI.

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  • Scientists urge revision of sustainable forest product certification indicators

Scientists urge revision of sustainable forest product certification indicators

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An internationally recognized product labelling system designed to assure consumers that they are buying sustainably-sourced forest products is falling short of some of its intended objectives, according to new research.

Since 1994, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification framework of agreed indicators has encouraged companies to adhere to sustainable forest management practices, which are also aimed at simultaneously increasing financial profitability.

Companies follow guidelines to extract timber responsibly, reduce impact on forest ecosystems and help reduce land and soil degradation. FSC certification, one of the most widely accepted standards aimed at assessing long term sustainable forest management worldwide, is also designed to protect the rights of workers and indigenous people.

However, a study undertaken in Brazil by scientists with the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), published in the journal of Forest Policy and Economics determined that a lack of transparency and unclear reporting indicators restrict the reliability of the program.

“We found that in Brazil, FSC auditors and certification bodies don’t succeed in guaranteeing  companies are in full conformity  with labor and environmental requirements due to a lack of clarity on how standards are applied and conformity assessments administered,” said Marie-Gabrielle Piketty, who undertook the project as a researcher with the French Agricultural Centre for International Development (CIRAD). “Notably, there are really important and trustworthy agents in the certification system — everything relies on them, but we need to better understand the exact processes at stake.”

The country’s 6.2 million hectares of certified forests make up a significant amount of certified land area worldwide, more than in any other tropical country. Forest plantations make up three quarters of Brazil’s certified area, while the Brazilian Amazon includes 1.5 million hectares of certified natural forests.

FSC certification in Brazil is based on 10 principles, 55 criteria and an average of 200 indicators, which must be verified by external auditors, who report conformity and non-conformity, request corrective actions and determine whether to grant or revoke certification.

Read also: Can REDD+ help Brazil roll back rising deforestation rates?

Cattle farming is a key driver of deforestation in Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR

Piketty conducted the research with Isabel Garcia Drigo, who formerly worked with Nexus Socioambiental Ltda., a company which helps perform audits. She now works for the Institute of Forest and Agriculture Management and Certification (IMAFLORA). Together they reviewed public documents, conducted interviews, and undertook an analysis of indicators and “non-conformance” in audit reports.

“With FSC, we imagine a perfect system has been put in place, but it’s not perfect because it’s very, very difficult to comply with the standards,” Garcia Drigo said. “Being certified by FSC doesn’t mean you have perfect forest management — forests and forest management can be certified even with failures or imperfections.”

The goal of the researchers was to determine how auditors shape implementation and the amount of wiggle room that exists to interpret standards subjectively rather than objectively.

Some indicators are not open to interpretation, but others are, which means that the specific knowledge or judgement of an individual auditor can affect whether a company is certified or not. Some of the objective indicators are more difficult to check through auditing because they are too broad.

For example, one indicator includes informing workers and surrounding communities about the importance of forest management activities and their environmental implications. However, the statement does not define which information or methods of communication are essential and acceptable, Piketty and Garcia Drigo said.

Auditors can classify non-conformance as either a major or minor infraction, a major infraction can result in the suspension of certification but an act of minor non-conformance does not result in certification being revoked. They must be solved within a maximum period of a year.

However, Piketty and Garcia Drigo demonstrated that companies can be certified despite recurrent minor non-conformance. They recommend that FSC undertake a systematic review to identify areas where auditors have excessive freedom to interpret “conformance.” A limit should be set for allowable minor non-conformance concerns, they said.

Read also: Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

Although there is a rule to label them as major non-conformance if they are repeated, in cases where indicators are too broad or too difficult to comply with – for example, if they encompass multiple aspects or are dependent on three-part actions – auditors have room to allow the recurrence.

However, this potential demonstrates a permanent failure of the forest management system, and FSC needs to review such indicators by improving them or establishing a limit on time to meet full compliance requirements.

Another challenge is that the public FSC certification database only shows recent certification reports and non-conformance assessments. Conformance assessments are not published.

“We need to know how auditors assess that a company really does follow all the rules, Piketty said. “If we don’t have access, we just don’t know, we just have to trust and accept. Consumers of certified products need assurance that they have been made from responsible sources and are verified properly to meet appropriate socio-environmental standards.”

FSC recognizes the potential fluidity inherent in its auditing practices. In 2016, the organization conducted a review of life cycle assessment practices, which are often used to support sustainability assessment or rating systems. The review determined that although the life-cycle perspective is important for addressing the environmental impact of production processes, it should be complemented with other assessment tools.

By Julie Mollins, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

This work was supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR-11-CEPL-0009).

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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  • 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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  • Creating an appropriate tenure foundation for REDD+: The record to date and prospects for the future

Creating an appropriate tenure foundation for REDD+: The record to date and prospects for the future

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Attention to tenure is a fundamental step in preparation for REDD+ implementation. Unclear and conflicting tenure has been the main challenge faced by the proponents of subnational REDD+ initiatives, and accordingly, they have expended much effort to remedy the problem. This article assesses how well REDD+ has performed in laying an appropriate tenure foundation. Field research was carried out in two phases (2010-2012 and 2013-2014) in five countries (Brazil, Peru, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia) at 21 subnational initiatives, 141 villages (half targeted for REDD+ interventions), and 3,754 households. Three questions are posed: 1) What was the effect of REDD+ on perceived tenure insecurity of village residents?; 2) What are the main reasons for change in the level of tenure insecurity and security from Phase 1 to Phase 2 perceived by village residents in control and intervention villages?; and 3) How do intervention village residents evaluate the impact of tenure-related interventions on community well-being? Among the notable findings are that: 1) tenure insecurity decreases slightly across the whole sample of villages, but we only find that REDD+ significantly reduces tenure insecurity in Cameroon, while actually increasing insecurity of smallholder agricultural land tenure in Brazil at the household level; 2) among the main reported reasons for increasing tenure insecurity (where it occurs) are problems with outside companies, lack of title, and competition from neighboring villagers; and 3) views on the effect of REDD+ tenure-related interventions on community well-being lean towards the positive, including for interventions that restrain access to forest. Thus, while there is little evidence that REDD+ interventions have worsened smallholder tenure insecurity (as feared by critics), there is also little evidence that the proponents’ efforts to address tenure insecurity have produced results. Work on tenure remains an urgent priority for safeguarding local livelihoods as well as for reducing deforestation. This will require increased attention to participatory engagement, improved reward systems, tenure policy reform, integration of national and local efforts, and “business-as-usual” interests.

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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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  • Are Brazil nuts the saviors of the Amazon basin?

Are Brazil nuts the saviors of the Amazon basin?

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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.


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


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.


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

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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  • Tropical fruit tree diversity: Good practices for in situ and on-farm conservation

Tropical fruit tree diversity: Good practices for in situ and on-farm conservation

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Farmers have developed a range of agricultural practices to sustainably use and maintain a wide diversity of crop species in many parts of the world. This book documents good practices innovated by farmers and collects key reviews on good practices from global experts, not only from the case study countries but also from Brazil, China and other parts of Asia and Latin America.

A good practice for diversity is defined as a system, organization or process that, over time and space, maintains, enhances and creates crop genetic diversity, and ensures its availability to and from farmers and other users. Drawing on experiences from a UNEP-GEF project on “Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wild and Cultivated Tropical Fruit Tree Diversity for Promoting Livelihoods, Food Security and Ecosystem Services”, with case studies from India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, the authors show how methods for identifying good practices are still evolving and challenges in scaling-up remain.

They identify key principles effective as a strategy for mainstreaming good practice into development efforts. Few books draw principles and lessons learned from good practices. This book fills this gap by combining good practices from the research project on tropical fruit trees with chapters from external experts to broaden its scope and relevance.

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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, Peter May at or Maria Brockhaus at

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

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  • Managing degraded forests, a new priority in the Brazilian Amazon

Managing degraded forests, a new priority in the Brazilian Amazon

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By taking drastic steps, Brazil has succeeded in reducing the annual deforestation rate for Amazonia from 27 770 km2 in 2005 to 5 830 km2 in 2015. However, those steps have not had any effect on forest degradation, notably the partial destruction of the canopy.

In the Brazilian Amazon, degraded forests dominate the landscape along pioneer fronts. The region now faces a major challenge: stopping degradation and managing its forests sustainably. In this issue of Perspective, researchers highlight four priorities for research: developing degraded forest characterization and monitoring methods, drafting specific management plans, understanding the role played by all social players, and supporting policies on a territorial level.

Nowadays, degraded forests are a forest category in their own right. They could play a major role in mitigating climate change. They could also contribute to better ecological functioning on a territorial level. Drafting policies with the dual aim of reducing degradation and optimizing these forests requires strong support from research.

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  • 'Turning the onus of restoration into a bonus for farmers' in Brazil

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

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David Kenduywo is pictured at his farm in Kembu, Kenya, where he grows fodder trees, shrubs and grass for his dairy cattle. Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF
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David Kenduywo is pictured at his farm in Kembu, Kenya, where he grows fodder trees, shrubs and grass for his dairy cattle. Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF

A recent article on research in Brazil yields seven flexible options for farmers who wish to use agroforestry as a means to comply with regulations while benefitting their land and livelihoods.

Setting aside conservation areas on Brazil’s farms and rural properties isn’t just good for the ecosystem, the climate and biodiversity – it’s the law. In 2012, the country passed a new Brazilian Forest Code known as the Law for Protecting the Native Vegetation.

This code expands on an older law that obliges all farmers and rural property owners to set aside a portion of their land, known as Permanent Preservation Areas and Legal Reserves, for conservation.

Mandating the restoration of a portion of a farmer’s land with a mix of native species carries potential negative short-term economic impacts despite the collective environmental services. Obligatory conservation and/or restoration using conventional methods consisting of planting native trees can reduce the immediate economic potential of the land, which could otherwise be used to farm commercial crops. But this is not necessarily the case.

For the many smallholders, or ‘family farmers’ in Brazil, incorporating agroforestry systems (AFS) is a legally acceptable land use which satisfies the definition of a conservation area. However, regulation is still fledgling and consistency in its application has been erratic.

So what is the best way to incorporate AFS into farm land and rural areas while maximizing species diversity, ecosystem benefits, and ultimately, livelihood benefits?

A farmer walks through an area where intercropping of rubber and food crops takes place. Photo by Julius Atia/ICRAF

The answer is complex due to inconsistencies in regulation, and substantial differences among farmers’ means and goals, access to markets and biophysical conditions, crop choices, and scant access to knowledge on landowners’ restoration options. To help alleviate these knowledge and practical gaps and to strengthen enabling factors like policy and regulation, a body of research was conducted in the Cerrado and Caatinga biomes to analyze the best AFS options.

Through a literature review, interviews with stakeholders, a national workshop and a series of on-site farmer experiences and observations, the research team led by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and partners, including FTA researchers, set out to determine if and how AFS was indeed a viable option for smallholders to both fulfill their legal obligations to conserve and/or restore land and maximize livelihoods and other benefits.

Read the full open source article on Cambridge University Press.

Based on the research, and accounting for biome or landscape context and farmer experiences, seven broad options were identified for farmers and rural landowners as flexible solutions that are adaptive enough to fit most circumstances and cater to individual needs and capabilities. While uptake of these techniques by farmers is a key component, an equally significant result is that state regulators and extension agents, armed with an understanding of these options, are better able to oversee implementation of the new Forest Code and therefore generate consistent services and policy.

The options are:

  • high-input successional agroforestry systems for the Cerrado: planting in beds with annual crops and vegetables with rows of fertilizer trees and agroforestry species;
  • planting alternate strips of agroforestry and native species;
  • planting ‘fertilizer’ and ‘engineer’ species in rows or ‘islands’ (clusters) throughout the area;
  • planting seeds and seedlings for enrichment and managing natural regeneration;
  • agroforestry for restoring steep hillsides in terraces or swales in the Cerrado or soft slopes in the Caatinga;
  • forage agroforestry systems in the Caatinga; and
  • restoring degraded lands in the Caatinga beginning with “engineer” and “fertilizer” species.

This study concludes that AFS is a viable option for smallholder farmers to reconcile with the Forest Code’s goal of increasing conservation while improving the land, and reaping economic and environmental benefits. As notably stated in the article, [AFS] “can indeed provide practical solutions for turning the onus of restoration into a bonus for farmers.”

Originally published on the IUCN website.

This study is part of a partnership between IUCN and ICRAF funded by ‘Improving the way knowledge on forests is understood and used internationally (KNOWFOR)’ under a grant awarded to IUCN by UK Aid from the UK government. In Brazil, this project is coordinated by ICRAF in partnership with IUCN, Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), ISPN (Institute for Society Population and Nature), SFB (Brazilian Forest Service), ISSA (Instituto Salvia) and Mutirão Agroflorestal. 

The research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

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An aerial shot shows the contrast between forest and agricultural landscapes near Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
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An aerial shot shows the contrast between forest and agricultural landscapes near Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

By Pablo Pacheco, Coordinator of Flagship 3 of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Recently, I came across a much publicized article in The New York Times about the impact of two of the world’s biggest grain traders, Cargill and Bunge, on deforestation trends in the agricultural frontiers of Brazil and Bolivia. Since we have entered an era of private commitments to deforestation-free supply chains, this article shows that there is still a way to go for some companies to improve their performance.

Deforestation estimates in 2016 from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) indicate a resurgence of deforestation in the Amazon, and deforestation hotspots identified by the Word Resources Institute suggest increasing pressure on the savanna forests in the Cerrado region, a biodiversity-rich ecosystem. Additionally, while there are no official deforestation estimates in lowlands Bolivia, it has remained at high levels, according to Terra-I. This suggests a need to examine the culprits.

Cattle farming is a major cause of deforestation in Brazilian Amazon.Photo by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Don’t miss the forest for the trees

The article mentioned above discusses a new report by the environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth that identifies deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia linked to Cargill and Bunge. Drawing on satellite imagery and supply-chain mapping information processed by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the article makes the case that new large-scale forest-clearing by Bolivian and Brazilian farmers for soybean production is associated with the demand from these two American-based food giants.

It is interesting to note that companies like Cargill and Bunge still buy soybeans originating from forestlands converted to agriculture and fail to implement due diligence procedures to verify their origin. In some cases, these purchases directly trigger soybean expansion across Brazil and Bolivia’s frontiers. Cargill and Bunge have argued, in their defense, that their role is minor, and that deforestation is a complex issue that requires all major buyers — not just them — to get involved.

While it is useful that environmental groups like Mighty Earth track how company supply chains are ‘contaminated’ by ‘dirty supply’, it would be more helpful if they could place these trends within a wider context. This would foster more practical and durable solutions, because even if these two soybean traders stopped buying soybeans from the Matopiba region in Brazil and the eastern lowlands in Bolivia, it is likely that deforestation would continue to expand in both of these regions.

In this sense, the New York Times article fails to provide an in-depth understanding of the complex dynamics shaping these two agricultural frontiers, and misleadingly mixes two very different situations. Moreover, while the article refers to deforestation trends in the Amazon, it looks mostly at the Cerrado areas, where a greater pressure associated with agricultural expansion is taking place.

To its credit, the article does highlight two important trends that have been perceived by academics yet hardly studied until now: 1) Efforts to contain deforestation in the Amazon have shifted to the Cerrado areas; and 2) Efforts to contain deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon have placed pressure on other countries, mainly in Bolivia and Paraguay’s deciduous and dry forests. In these regions, different regulations governing conversion of forests apply less rigid standards than in the Amazon.

Two main issues came to my attention while reading this article. The first is the clear limits of the soy moratorium, since it only applies to the Amazon region. The second is how easy it remains for companies to circumvent their sustainability commitments when playing around with specific national regulations that still allow for forest conversion. But what is most interesting in our current times is that companies have to now face the reality of their own commitments under the scrutiny of civil society.

The two companies blamed as culprits of deforestation argue that they have a relatively low share in total soy supply originating from the regions under scrutiny. Cargill sources 8 percent from Bolivian municipalities and Bunge sources 20 percent from Matopiba, Brazil. Thus, slowing deforestation has to go beyond the actions of just these two companies. More action should be required to revise the land-use and forest conservation regulations in the Cerrado areas.

Governments, not just companies, need to step up

What I found thought-provoking in this article were the views expressed by Stewart Lindsay, Bunge’s vice president for global corporate affairs: “One company alone cannot solve this issue … a positive step would be for more companies to adopt zero-deforestation commitments, apply controls to block crops grown in illegally cleared areas from entering their supply chains, report publicly on progress, and invest millions of dollars to support sustainable land-use planning efforts.”

His perspective is correct, but it falls short. It is correct in the sense that deforestation is a complex issue that cannot be solved by one single company, especially as the largest share of deforestation is not necessarily driven by soy, but from pasture expansion, which the domestic markets absorb an important portion of. Pasture is still the largest source of deforestation in both Brazil and Bolivia.

While it is important that the article highlights the pressure placed by Mennonites on forests for the production of soy sold to Cargill, much of the deforestation in lowlands Bolivia is currently related to the expansion of pasture for cattle production in the Chiquitania. This, of course, is not related to any transnational company, but to a growing national demand for beef associated with land speculation. Unfortunately, the government of Bolivia has not been able to adequately control this process.

Thus, institutional agreements between governments, industries and retailers in the domestic market have an important role to play in abating deforestation. Brazil is the poster child for this in terms of drastically reducing deforestation in the Amazon region. However, these agreements constitute a double-edged sword given the effects they can have on excluding certain suppliers like medium-scale farmers and smallholders who cannot adopt the improved production practices required by traders and end-buyers.

Something that is becoming more perverse in Brazil, and even more so in Bolivia, is that agricultural frontiers continue to expand under more complex land-use interactions. Over time, producers are facing more difficulties to keep yields and production volumes up, due to more intense and longer dry-spells caused by climate change. This is having adverse impacts on overall production, but banks and insurance systems often do not take into account climate change-related variables.

In addition, production models promoted by transnational trading companies and backed by environmental NGOs that tend to spare forests are resulting in the expansion of more intensive production systems based on large-scale and highly intensive use of chemical inputs. This is in opposition to more integrated and agro-ecological production systems that could take better advantage of the natural resources existing in the Amazon and Cerrado regions, and could better preserve them.

In conclusion, while it is important to continue discussing ways to achieve zero deforestation in supply chains with the help of traders and buyers, it is also important to look at the role of governments to provide guidance on clearer regulations and enforcement methods in ways that apply uniformly across different regions. More attention should be placed on innovative options to manage more sustainable agricultural frontiers, and to create schemes that answer the needs of all stakeholders involved.

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  • REDD+ politics – or why it is so difficult to tackle large-scale drivers of deforestation

REDD+ politics – or why it is so difficult to tackle large-scale drivers of deforestation

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Ethiopia recently established a REDD+ national strategy. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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Ethiopia recently established a REDD+ national strategy. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
Ethiopia recently established a REDD+ national strategy. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

By Efrian Muharrom, Melaku Bekele, Cynthia Maharani, Pham Thu Thuy, Grace Wong, Maria Brockhaus, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

What challenges do REDD+ countries have in common, where do they differ? And how do a country’s politics play out in managing drivers of deforestation?

Representatives from more than a dozen countries across three continents had the rare opportunity to discuss these and other questions at a recent REDD+ knowledge-sharing event held from 8-10 June in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia.

The three-day meeting, hosted by the Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources at Hawassa University, brought Ethiopian policymakers and practitioners together with researchers from 15 REDD+ countries in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia to present and analyze their progress. Research on REDD+ forms part of the climate change theme of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Discussions showed that while countries develop their own approaches to REDD+, incorporating national circumstances in their policy design, the challenges they face in avoiding deforestation remain largely similar.

Timing is crucial, but it’s not everything

What challenges do REDD+ countries have in common? Photo: Bruno Locatelli/CIFOR
What challenges do REDD+ countries have in common? Photo: Bruno Locatelli/CIFOR

It would be easy to assume that early-mover countries have already progressed with REDD+ to a stage where ‘payments for performance’ can be made. However, it appears that some early-mover countries – such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Mozambique and Papua New Guinea – are still struggling with policy design and implementation, meaning that late-comer countries could yet catch up.

  • Laos launched a REDD+ task force in 2008, and has conceptualized REDD+ as a shared responsibility of two ministries, but there is still the classic problem of conflict between institutions, which has created confusion. Overall, REDD+ in Laos is seen as a project, and not as policy development. Things may be changing, however, since a new prime minister assumed office on 20 April and has already issued a moratorium on timber and log exports.
  • On the African continent, Ethiopia recently finalized a REDD+ national strategy, covering REDD+ goals, governance, measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) design, and financing options. REDD+ activities in Ethiopia will be implemented with both in-country and external funding, including through agricultural intensification. The jurisdictional REDD+ project in the regional state of Oromia is now entering its final stage of implementation, with a pledge by Norway of USD 50 million.
  • Papua New Guinea is still in the first phase of REDD+ readiness, despite being one of the first countries to propose REDD back in 2005. The country’s political commitment to tackling deforestation and forest degradation has been questioned — for example, it remains the largest exporter of timber in the world, and continues to back large-scale land conversion plans under a paradigm of ‘green development’.
One key condition to move forward with REDD+ seems to be the upfront investment a country needs to make. While this is a burden for most countries in the short term, in the long term it instills a sense of ownership, as seen in the cases of Brazil. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
One key condition to move forward with REDD+ seems to be the upfront investment a country needs to make. While this is a burden for most countries in the short term, in the long term it instills a sense of ownership, as seen in the cases of Brazil. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Stumbling blocks on the road to ‘transformational change’

Business-as-usual is a powerful force. Conflicting interests in the agendas of different actors involved in deforestation — across and within ministries, and across levels of governance —can be a major challenge for achieving effective, efficient and equitable REDD+.

Lack of land-use planning, unclear tenure, weak law enforcement and uncertainty over long-term funding were also found to be common challenges. Another was the lack of continuity in commitment from politicians.

Political champions for change are crucial for moving the REDD+ agenda forward. But some of these champions in REDD+ countries have not been able to generate sustainable and institutionalized pathways for change away from deforestation and forest degradation in the course of their terms.

Research on climate change will be the focus of the August Forests, Trees and Agroforestry newsletter. Sign up here to receive the regular update on FTA news.

The politics of the possible

Politics do matter when moving forward with REDD+. Analysis from Indonesia, Guyana, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Brazil and many other countries show that either the political carousel is rolling too fast within election cycles to maintain momentum for change, or the attention span of politicians is too short to carry out major reform.

One example mentioned was Indonesia, which until 2014 rapidly developed a REDD+ mechanism under the leadership of a president with a strong public commitment to mitigate climate change. During this time, a REDD+ national strategy was established, as well as a REDD+ agency with the power to coordinate across ministries, a REDD+ financial mechanism, regulations related to REDD+ implementation, MRV infrastructure and more. Policies were issued, including a peatland moratorium policy, and a one-map policy.

With a change in presidential leadership in 2014, everything seemed to change overnight. The new president, with a strong focus on strengthening governance and economic development, merged the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forestry, dismissed the REDD+ Agency, the Climate Change National Council (DNPI), and the presidential office for development monitoring (UKP4), as the institution where the REDD+ task force was hosted. He then established a Directorate General of Climate Change Mitigation under the new Minister of Environment and Forestry, handing over the tasks of the late REDD+ Agency and DNPI.

Reactions were mixed among participants at the Addis Adaba meeting – some questioned the effectiveness of the first president’s measures in halting deforestation, considering that by 2014 Indonesia had become the country with the highest rate of deforestation in the world. They argued that change under the new president presented a possibility for greater ownership over the REDD+ process within the government. Meanwhile, others argued that the changes indicated weakened political will and undermined effective REDD+ policy making. However, all participants agreed that the changes in the political configuration contribute to an unclear future for REDD+ in Indonesia.

Optimists and pessimists

REDD+ gives reason for both cautious optimism and also some skepticism.

Some countries presented successful policy responses to the problem of deforestation, with ‘command and control’ as well as ‘payments for environmental services’ (PES) being part of the more effective approaches. Others mentioned REDD+ as being adopted in education curricula, reviews of natural resource exploitation licenses causing deforestation and forest degradation, capacity-building and technology transfer on conducting forest inventories and MRV as positive policy innovations for REDD+.

One topic that stirred controversy in discussion among country representatives was the strategy of integrating REDD+ into green economy pathways, as adopted by countries such as Guyana, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Participants said that this kind of strategy can ensure that the roadmap for transformational change is more comprehensive in targeting the underlying causes of deforestation, and can help to remove perverse incentives such as subsidies for land-use change driving deforestation and forest degradation.

However, some participants shared pessimistic concerns that with the introduction of ‘green economy’ or ‘green growth’ language, attention moves away from tangible measurable carbon and non-carbon outcome performance to rather fuzzy concepts with very little REDD+ objectives within.

One key condition to move forward with REDD+ seems to be the upfront investment a country needs to make. While this is a burden for most countries in the short term, in the long term it instills a sense of ownership, as seen in the cases of Brazil and Guyana, and carries a commitment to move past the pressures of election cycles and business as usual.

In the end, political willingness to break with old habits and powerful interests was highlighted as the most crucial factor for success across all country cases. It takes optimism and commitment for a state to break away from the entrenched interests driving deforestation, and to regain autonomy by enforcing decisions that regulate large-scale international and domestic investor behavior. And it takes an empowered civil society to hold state and business accountable to their commitments and promises.

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  • Quantifying the drivers of South American deforestation

Quantifying the drivers of South American deforestation

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Deforestation in the Amazon. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
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Deforestation in the Amazon. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
Deforestation in the Amazon. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Research on forests in the times of climate change forms a big part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). A new study helps quantify the drivers of deforestation in South America and Samuel McGlennon talked to the author about the results. 

Can you imagine examining samples from every patch of forest cleared over a period of 15 years across an entire continent? That’s exactly what Veronique De Sy, a scientist at Wageningen University and at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), did for her latest study by using satellite imagery to quantify the drivers of deforestation for South America between the years of 1990 and 2005.

“It was quite labor-intensive,” said De Sy. “The task of visually confirming every data point of deforestation took me about a year, but I got a really nice result, so it was worth it.”

And a very valuable result – or rather, set of results – too. Manually checking samples from each 10km by 10km patch of South America’s landmass meant that De Sy could attribute patches of deforestation to specific land-uses. Further, using data divided into two time periods allowed for a perspective on how these processes had changed over time.

This approach enabled her to build up a picture of the drivers of deforestation which is both spatially and temporally explicit, providing welcome detail for policymakers and others looking to understand this fifteen-year period of significant land-use change.

Deforestation drivers in South America

The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR
The Unamat forest, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR

For all the nuances detected by De Sy’s research, the primary driver of deforestation certainly didn’t come as a surprise. Pasture accounted for 71.2 percent of South America’s deforestation between 1990 and 2005. In Brazil, where nearly two-thirds of the continent’s deforestation occurred, pasture was the main culprit comprising a whopping 81.8 percent.

“For policymaking, this information is quite important because you can be informed not only of the areas to focus on, but also of the agents responsible for the deforestation. For most South American countries, large agri-businesses are the agents of change. And although pasture was clearly dominant, commercial cropping was also highly significant in some countries, like Bolivia and Argentina. Only in one country – Peru – was smallholder cropping a dominant driver of forest clearing.”

While many of these relationships were already known from previous research, De Sy’s research has contributed to quantifying them and showing how they changed between 1990-2000 and 2000-2005.

“Between the two time periods covered by the study, we actually see an increase in deforestation. Commercial cropping played a larger role during the latter time period, but it was still a distant second to pasture.”

Measuring carbon losses

Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Another aspect of De Sy’s research was to allocate a carbon value to each data point of deforestation. “Not all deforested areas release the same amount of carbon. We distinguished between different forest types by using spatially explicit forest biomass information,” said De Sy. This level of detail allowed the team to better measure the carbon consequences of deforestation depending on where it occurred.

Overall, the study determines that around 6,460 teragrams, or a million metric tons, of carbon was released from South America between 1990 and 2005 due to deforestation. Averaged across 15 years, forest clearing from South America ranks No. 5 on the international list of top annual carbon emitters.

“We know that these were some of the worst years for deforestation in South America, particularly in Brazil,” De Sy said. From both a carbon and law enforcement perspective, another negative trend De Sy observed was that deforestation in Brazil moved deeper into the Amazon between the two time periods. This necessarily meant that the forests cleared were of higher carbon value.

REDD+ monitoring systems

Cattle farming is a major cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR
Cattle farming is a major cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR

So how can these new findings be put to use? De Sy sees a clear value for her data in light of the recent agreement on REDD+ at the Paris climate change negotiations in late 2015.

“This paper can certainly give an indication of a baseline for countries that are setting up their own monitoring systems, including what drivers are important and what policies might be needed. I think it’s important that countries design their own systems and their own ways of figuring out what the relevant drivers are. It all has to fit together, and that has to happen at the national scale.”

Yet there remains a valuable role for the broader-scale monitoring of the type that she and her colleagues have been conducting. “While the national scale is vital, it is still necessary for the climate change community and the international community to have a kind of an independent overview. That can help to identify problems like leakage, for example, and to put pressure on international commodity chains where there are underlying drivers of deforestation.”

The road ahead

De Sy envisions many potential ways to build on this study’s foundation. “At the moment, what we are focusing on is using the same methodology and expanding the geographical range to Asia and Africa. That way, we can get a pan-tropical perspective on deforestation, while simultaneously understanding the drivers of deforestation at a more localized level.”

According to De Sy, her data set could be paired with a surprising variety of other data sets for a deeper understanding of both deforestation’s causes and its consequences.

“It’s important to note that I only looked at direct drivers – the human activity immediately after the deforestation – but what is also really important to understand are the underlying drivers: the proximity to roads, the commodity prices and so on. My data set could be used to link to these underlying drivers, which would add a further layer of understanding.”

Equally, De Sy’s data set could be combined with biodiversity maps or biomass maps, giving insight into the changing consequences of deforestation through time. “That would mean that if these deforestation hotspots move, you know whether they’re moving into areas where they are going to be more or less destructive for forests, carbon and wildlife.”

Unfortunately, because the underlying data on forest clearance hasn’t been updated since 2005, this study’s methodology can’t be used to show the changes that have taken place over the decade since 2005.

“We’ve shown with this study what can be done, but it comes with a bit of a plea to organizations to invest in these data sets. The uniqueness of this study is in its quantification, as well as its spatial explicitness, and the fact that its methodology will eventually be extended pan-tropically. But this is just a piece of the whole deforestation story.”

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  • Beef in Brazil: Steps toward sustainability

Beef in Brazil: Steps toward sustainability

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It’s a wicked problem: reducing tropical deforestation while allowing countries to develop and cut poverty. Resolving means striking a balance between environmental, social and economic goals – and there will be trade-offs. This video ventures into the Amazon rainforest to assess the effects of Brazil’s strategy – aligning public and private interests to move toward sustainable production of beef.

Research on the drivers of deforestation and on sustainable supply chains is one big focus of Flagship 5 of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). Public private collaboration was key to first successes to curb deforestation in Brazil, says Flagship coordinator Pablo Pacheco, Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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