22 March 2017

The country at the crossroads - will Brazilian forests win?


O país na encruzilhada - as florestas brasileiras vencerão?

Brazil is at a crossroads. The current economic and political crisis has jeopardised historic achievements in curbing deforestation in the Amazon without jeopardising the increase in commodity production. There are constant attempts to relax social and environmental protections, presented as a necessary step to regain economic growth. In this context, efforts led by committed business and civil society are increasingly important to demonstrate that choosing a sustainable path makes sense for the economy and for people.

One of the most relevant examples of such efforts is the Brazil Climate, Forests and Agriculture Coalition. The Coalition brought together companies from different sectors and NGOs to define a common agenda for a low-carbon economy in Brazil and to work with the government and other stakeholders to implement it. When companies and NGOs walk into government offices together asking for the same thing, they can change deeply rooted assumptions about what is acceptable and desirable. Faced with this new type of advocacy, the Ministry of Environment has just announced plans for innovative levels of transparency for forestry activities in the country, a key condition for increasing the area of forests under sustainable management and eliminating illegal logging. With a simple change in access to information, the difficulty of law enforcement over vast areas of forests can be reduced, allowing buyers to better manage their supply chains and establish effective market restrictions on illegally logged timber.

Realising the importance of this legislation regulating the conversion of natural habitat on private land, a group of NGOs have joined forces in the Forest Code Observatory to monitor and promote its implementation. Under this umbrella, Proforest, BVRio and IPAM have been working on a practical guide for Forest Code compliance analysis - to help buyers of Brazilian agricultural commodities assess and promote Forest Code implementation by their suppliers. The guide will be launched in March 2017, with support from TFA 2020, Coalizão Brasil, CDP, Cargill and Nestlé. This is a practical example of how international actors can leverage locally developed tools and policies to achieve their sustainability goals, while contributing to local ownership of the results and long-term governance of natural resources.

Indeed, international actors can play a key role in helping Brazil choose a sustainable path at this crossroads. There is a worldwide movement to eliminate deforestation caused by commodities. Companies, governments and civil society organisations have committed to participate in this movement individually or through the Consumer Goods Forum, the New York Declaration on Forests or the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020. Members of TFA 2020 will come to Brasilia in March 2017 for its 2nd General Assembly. This well-intentioned alliance is eager to learn how Brazil managed to decouple deforestation and commodity production in the Amazon with a combination of public policy and market measures. However, deforestation is back on the rise in the Amazon and other biomes need attention. In this new context, support from international market leaders and examples from other countries that have chosen to build a better path to growth can help Brazilian governments and companies see the long- and short-term benefits of embracing and perhaps even leading this movement by continuing to seek collaborations and innovative solutions.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 General Assembly will provide a personal opportunity to engage with the international platform, jointly discuss challenges and emerging models that can scale to innovative and practical solutions of how a partnership can increase the impact of these transformations. Topics of discussion will include emerging jurisdictional approaches - the benefits and challenges, the involvement of smallholder farmers in this critical agenda, the important role of governments in tropical forest countries, donor countries and more.

This article was originally published in Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.