It’s been a bad time for the Amazon over the last several months. There has been a sharp reversal in deforestation trends there, following a number of years of significant progress. While deforestation is a yearly occurrence within the basin, until recently the rate of deforestation has been declining. However, in the last 12 months, deforestation rates have risen by no less than 30%, leading to concerns that this valuable environmental resource is once again coming under intense pressure.
Part of the problem is the world’s intense hunger for a number of key commodities. This problem has been highlighted in a recent report from a coalition of leading environmental organizations that include the Rainforest Alliance and the National Wildlife Federation. It appears that the majority of deforestation results from clearing land for four key commodities – soy, palm oil, wood pulp and beef. Of these, soy, palm oil and beef all use the cleared land for agricultural production, whereas wood pulp is produced directly from the trees that are cut down.
In recent years, there has been an increasing drive to ensure that commodities are produced from sustainable sources. Wood, one of the four commodities implicated in Amazonian deforestation, is a case in point. In one example, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation has launched a program entitled Wood Forever, which is designed to promote environmentally sound use of hardwoods in shipbuilding – read more about this in blog entries by Francesco Corallo.
Clearly, promoting green practices in commodity production has environmental benefits, but it also has long-term economic benefits for commodity producers. Lands such as the Amazon basin are a finite resource and, once forested land is exhausted, commodity production will decline precipitously if current practices are not changed.
Action to promote such sustainable approaches to commodities is a key focus of the report from the environmental coalition. It calls on the US government to use its combination of technical capabilities and financial clout to both promote and enforce sustainability. One of the approaches suggested is that the US use its foreign aid budget to help developing nations make better use of land that has already been deforested. This would be accomplished through a combination of advanced agricultural technologies, together with support for farmers who operate family smallholdings.
The report also calls for the government to increase global demand for sustainably produced commodities. It proposes that the US government modify its procurement and trade policies to encourage markets for these goods. At the same time, adopting “carrot and stick” tactics, the US government would step up enforcement efforts and modify laws to create sanctions against commodities grown on deforested lands.
Finally, in addition to the supply-side and demand-side measures already discussed, the coalition recommends that the US government create greater visibility of the global commodities market. For example, US satellite surveillance could be used to detect new deforestation, and IT technology could be implemented in US processors to ensure that their supply chains remain free from commodities produced through deforestation.