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A study published in March by the European Commission offers a long-awaited blueprint for ending Europe’s central role in agricultural deforestation – clearing forests for coffee, cocoa, soy, palm oil and other agricultural products.

This article first appeared in the May ’18 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read other informative articles in the May and future issues of C&CI. 

The European Union has produced a long-awaited study* on what steps can be taken to reduce deforestation caused by demand for agricultural commodities consumed by its citizens.

The EU is one of the largest drivers of tropical deforestation. Consumption of agricultural commodities has given the EU a huge and largely unacknowledged footprint in the rainforests. To reduce its forest footprint, the EU must regulate European trade and consumption of forest-risk commodities such as coffee and cocoa. The EU is by far the largest importer of cocoa in the world and one of the largest importers of coffee.

The EU has already regulated supply chains in other sectors such as illegal timber, conflict minerals and illegal fishing. Now it’s time to regulate on deforestation, but any forest-risk commodity regulation must take account of two realities. First, the conversion of forest land to large-scale agricultural production is the primary cause of deforestation. Therefore, any regulation of forest-risk commodities must deal with this conversion in order to be effective in halting global deforestation. Of particular concern is whether land-use decisions respect the tenure and use rights of indigenous peoples and local communities as well as the environmental and other social impacts of the land conversion.

Complex supply chains

The second reality is that the global supply chains for the commodities in question are very complex. They entail the amalgamation of materials from multiple sources prior to their incorporation into products retailed in the EU, giving rise to significant traceability challenges.

“European consumers don’t want to be complicit in the illegal deforestation of the world’s last remaining forests. The EU currently ensures that the fish we eat and the timber we buy is legal, so why not the ingredients that are integral to our daily consumption habits?” said Nicole Polsterer, a consumption campaigner at Fern, an organisation that works to achieve environmental and social justice with a focus on forests and forest peoples’ rights in the policies and practices of the European Union.

The study, which outlines options to end deforestation, has been in process since 2015. The European Commission requested it to find ways to meet the EU’s commitment to halt deforestation by 2020.

“At the same time as conducting this important study, the Commission is doing everything it can to finalise a trade deal with Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) which could have a devastating impact on forests. This begs the question of where its priorities lie. Will it uphold its 2020 deforestation commitments, as the study proposes, or undermine them with a new trade deal?” said Ms Polsterer.

The document offers three possible options:

  • Publish a new EU Communication on deforestation without requiring any new measures.
  • Introduce new, non-legislative actions as part of an Action Plan.
  • Place mandatory due diligence on companies importing and consuming forest risk commodities.

“These options are also not mutually exclusive. A communication could set out the actions needed to improve sourcing of commodities, and this could be accompanied by an Action Plan requiring companies to meet mandatory due diligence requirements. This would send a strong signal to the market that commodities tainted with deforestation and human rights abuses are unacceptable,” Ms Polsterer said.

France leading the way

Member states are already taking actions to reduce deforestation that they cause. In 2017, France adopted a ground-breaking ‘Loi de Devoir de Vigilance’ requiring French companies to establish a risk assessment, report and act on environmental and social damage within their supply chains, including subcontractors and suppliers all over the world.

In addition, EU Member States such as Germany, the Netherlands, and France are members of the Amsterdam Declaration group, which has called on the EU to adopt an Action Plan on deforestation and forest degradation.

“EU policy makers must look towards France and adopt similar measures for the whole of the EU. We call on the most ambitious member states to continue to push the Commission to act. This is crucial if the EU is to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and comply with the Paris Agreement goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees,” said Ms Polsterer.

Deforestation is the permanent conversion of forest land into other landuses. The drivers of deforestation are multiple and complex and depend on specific regional and national contexts. The Food & Agriculture Organization shows how agricultural expansion to produce commodities such as coffee and cocoa drives almost 80 per cent of all deforestation, while mining and urbanisation/infrastructure were responsible for less than 10 per cent each.

EU countries account for significant consumption

EU demand contributes to the problem. According to an EC study published in 2013, the EU27 imported and consumed 7-10 per cent of the global consumption of crops and livestock products associated with deforestation in the countries of origin. This is equivalent to the import and consumption in the EU of a deforested land area of the size of Portugal over the period 1990-2008. The EU is also among the major global importers of several specific commodities associated with deforestation, including coffee and cocoa.

As a follow-up to a study published in 2013 on the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, the European Commission commissioned the newly-published study, in order to assess the feasibility of options to step up EU action against deforestation.

The study reviews relevant EU policies, legislation and initiatives and ongoing international and regional efforts by private sector, governments and civil society. Building on a problem analysis, the report makes suggestions on the framing of a possible EU initiative to tackle deforestation and its root causes and drivers. This includes proposed specific objectives and a range of potential EU interventions tackling different dimensions of the problem (supply and demand side drivers, as well as the role of finance and investments).

Package of interventions

All identified interventions were assessed against a shared set of assessment criteria: feasibility and effectiveness; political acceptability, technical complexity; and administrative costs. A key conclusion of the study is that given the complexity of the problem, any potential EU initiative should consider a package of interventions which addresses the supply, demand and finance dimensions, building on and reinforcing existing EU action as well as government and private sector commitments on zero deforestation and other relevant international initiatives.

Traditionally, West Africa is the main producer of cocoa, but is struggles keep up with growing demand for cocoa, due to crop diseases, pests, extreme weather, and political instability. Over recent years, production has therefore accelerated in South America, which is associated with direct deforestation in the Amazon forest. Notably, Peru experienced a five-fold increase of cocoa production between 1990 and 2013 (WRI, 2015). Vito et al. (2013) estimate that the EU-wide consumption in 1990-2008 is responsible for a deforested area of 0.6 million hectares, or about 8 per cent of the deforestation embodied in EU-wide traded crop products.

As cocoa plantations are often found on former forest lands, demand for this product can lead to further deforestation.

Fern claims that ‘around 40 per cent of Europe’s cocoa comes from former forest lands in Côte d’Ivoire’. Although cocoa can be grown in the shaded understory of tropical forests, production under full sun exposure leads to greater short-term yields but also to removals of tropical forest covers. Consequently, full-sun cocoa has become the dominant cultivation in some countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Coffee plays a more minor role in global deforestation**, but its effects are still significant. Recent data on the deforestation through coffee is limited.

However, Vito et al. (2013) estimate that the expansion of coffee led to the deforestation of respectively 0.60 and 0.21 million hectares in southeast Asia and Central America in the 1990-2008 period.

Data on coffee is limited

The deforestation through EU-wide consumption in the same time period is estimated at 0.3 million hectares, which accounts for about 4 per cent of the deforestation through EU-wide consumption. As is the case for cocoa, coffee can grow under shaded conditions with a limited impact on deforestation. Similarly, the cultivation of sun-grown coffee returns attractively higher yields. Reportedly, shade-grown coffee has helped to protect existing tropical forests like in Ethiopia.

“Despite its currently smaller significance, the expected development in global demand and supply make coffee a highly relevant good to consider,” the report concluded.■ C&CI



**March 2018 saw the Hanns R Neumann Stiftung, which runs the well-known coffee&climate initiative, issue a statement to the coffee industry appealing for partners who are interested in exploring the footprint of coffee and in co-operating on interventions to halt deforestation.

“For the long-term viability of coffee and coffee-based livelihoods we need to assess the footprint of coffee,” said Michael Opitz, Managing Director of the Hanns R Neumann Stiftung. He noted that climate expert Peter Baker estimates in his report “Global Coffee Production and Land Use Change” that the area devoted to cultivating coffee increases by approximately 100,000 hectares every year.

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