Commercial agriculture is a major driver of forest loss around the world. Such deforestation linked to global food supply chains, and its impact on environmental change, have been a source of concern for decades. Although the rate of deforestation has slowed in recent years, the world continues to lose around five million hectares of forest every year.
Commercial agriculture — particularly the production of palm oil, soybeans, beef cattle, and cocoa — accounts for 60 percent of tropical deforestation. The major actors in the agri-food industry have responded to global outrage by implementing zero-deforestation commitments (ZDCs): promises to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.
Yet, while there is evidence that the commitments of the largest firms have had some positive impact in reducing the speed of deforestation, limited information is available on how these promises influence the opportunities of producers to access sustainable markets and provide favorable livelihood outcomes (i.e., the policy’s access equity).
Commercial agriculture — particularly the production of palm oil, soybeans, beef cattle, and cocoa — accounts for 60 percent of tropical deforestation
Wide disparities remain in how preventative measures are designed and implemented across the supply chain. Despite the presence of the ZDCs, many larger companies fail to proactively monitor smaller or indirect suppliers and only take reactive enforcement action when forest clearing is detected.
Responsibility for illegal deforestation carried out by small-scale producers in national parks is often passed back to state owners, resulting in little or no enforcement action. There is scant evidence to suggest that affected suppliers at the lower end of the chain are being offered alternatives, incentives, or other such benefits to end illegal practices.
The design and implementation of sustainable policy choices influence the tradeoffs between effectiveness and equity of access. Access equity is essential in eliminating deforestation from food supply chains. But, to be effective, it requires stringent rules, widespread capacity building, and a much greater level of co-production and cooperation.
Longer-term solutions necessitate the rethinking of the reliance of tropical economies on agricultural exports for economic growth and development
And yet, despite playing such an important role in supporting alternative rural development and, ultimately, improving global environmental sustainability, little attention has been paid to these policy requirements.
To address this gap, Esade’s Janina Grabs defined, justified, and analyzed access equity and its importance in the forest-focused supply chain. Writing in the journal Global Environmental Change, Grabs and co-authors Federico Cammelli, Samuel A Levy and Rachael D Garrett from ETH Zurich’s Environmental Policy Lab present seven key policy design principles to enhance the synergy between the ZDCs of the major players with the access equity of producers throughout the global food supply chain. The study was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and European Research Council.
1. Policy design considerations
ZDC companies should be stringent when designing their commitments to avoid loopholes and leakage opportunities. At the same time, companies should be scrupulous in taking into account the capacities of suppliers when setting protection goals, and support alternative development paths (e.g. via jurisdictional initiatives) as part of their commitments.
2. Training and development
Efforts should be made to ensure farmers are aware of the market demands and given sufficient time to adapt. Training should be provided by the ZDC companies to address any skills gaps and ensure effective dissemination of the policy rules throughout the supply chain.
3. Local capacity
Technical and legal barriers to implementing the supply chain policy should be identified and addressed. ZDC companies should be actively involved in targeted capacity building to overcome such barriers, taking into account local, regional and cultural values. Resources should be provided to assist in the meeting of policy rules, including financial assistance where required.
4. Benefits for compliance
Compliance with policy requirements should be encouraged using benefit-sharing schemes, including payments to offset lost income as a result of changes, particularly for farmers living in poverty.
5. Community co-production
ZDC rules and implementation procedures should be co-produced with affected supply chain members and the surrounding communities.
6. Inclusivity and partnerships
ZDCs should coordinate with local, regional, and other relevant policy-making partners, both private and public, to ensure inclusivity, cooperation, and synchronicity.
7. Monitoring and enforcement
Monitoring and enforcement should be carried out in relation to the individual circumstances of the producer. In-depth local knowledge should be obtained and maintained during monitoring procedures to identify and address wider issues that could cause non-compliance. A collaborative compliance management approach between ZDCs, local partners, and the supply chain can keep providers within the measures of compliance, improve equity and improve sustainability outcomes.
These market-based solutions are an intermediate strategy in the journey toward developing more sustainable economies and food systems. Longer-term solutions necessitate the rethinking of the reliance of tropical economies on agricultural exports for economic growth and development. High-income countries in the global north must assume greater responsibility for their consumption footprints and, ultimately, agri-food giants and the sector as a whole must accept overall responsibility for the inequalities they enforce and the role they play in sustainable development.
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