To (m)eat or not to (m)eat: What is at steak?

Post in collaboration with Peter May

Brazil has recently emerged as one of the world’s primary sources of meat, with expanding cattle ranches and intensified swine and chicken operations. Since 1990 beef production in Brazil has more than doubled (104% increase) and the country is now the world’s second largest meat producer (after the United States) and is tied with India as primary exporter. Hong Kong, China, Russia, Egypt, United States and the United Kingdom are Brazil’s principal meat trading partners. Ranchers expect that Brazil will soon outstrip the United States in production. But what is “at steak”?

Land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) represents as much as 65% of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the Amazon forest – the largest remaining tropical forest in the world – accounts for around two-thirds of LULUCF emissions. Much of the deforestation in the country stems from the promotion of private livestock production. Besides being one of the main drivers of deforestation, cattle ranching is also a major source of methane emissions, contributing to global climate change. More than 40% of Brazil’s beef cattle are raised in the Amazon and around two thirds of deforested areas in the biome were converted to pasture between 2004 and 2014.

Opening the meat box

“Weak Flesh”, a two-year federal police investigation currently underway in Brazil, dramatized the corruption and unsanitary conditions that permeate meat supply chains, endangering human health both in Brazil and worldwide. The investigation found that Brazil’s largest meatpackers – JBS and BRF, which are both publicly traded global corporations – and other companies had bribed inspectors to permit rotten and contaminated meat to be exported or sold in-country for school lunches. Dozens of federal inspectors were arrested, accused of having ignored the adulteration or expiration of processed foods and of falsifying sanitary permits.

JBS is one of the world’s largest meat producers, having expanded its foreign holdings recently to include the United States chicken processor Pilgrim’s Pride, Argentina’s Swift/Armour and Canadian ranches. BRF is a major meat exporter to the Middle East and Asia. JBS alone is responsible for around 60% of animals slaughtered in the Amazon. Crop production accounts for a considerably smaller share of the deforested area, since it usually occupies already deforested land, while cattle ranching tends to encroach directly on forest areas. Although deforestation had declined from 2010 to 2015 due to a combination of stronger enforcement and lower commodity prices, recent figures show an upswing of 26%. This presages a worsening of the driving forces behind Brazil’s continued rainforest destruction attributed in large measure to the livestock industry.

Despite legally-enforced ‘zero deforestation agreements’ signed by the largest meatpacking enterprises in 2009, beef exporters continued to accept cattle from illegally deforested areas. Under such agreements, companies commit to accept animals only from suppliers registered under the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) that have agreed both to refrain from illegal logging and to reduce deforestation where it is still permitted by the national forest code. But in practice most of the cattle is laundered: cattle are often reared on illegally deforested land and then are moved to legal, registered ranches prior to being brought to slaughter. Recent evidence suggests that the CAR may have been used to facilitate land grabbing by criminal gangs in Pará, the main cattle ranching state in Brazil. Landholders there are accused of having created false CARs to continue deforesting untitled lands.

To add insult to injury, cattle ranching in the Amazon also involves high rates of labour conditions akin to slavery. Research has uncovered clandestine airstrips built by some large producers to transport heavy weapons and ammunition in addition to supplies for livestock production. Large ranchers, such as the Santa Bárbara Group in Pará, have been accused in several instances of having used slave labour on their premises, where many workers perform their duties under armed observation.

This all spells trouble for Brazil’s struggling economy and for the lucrative agribusiness industry, one of the few relatively stable economic sectors in the country. It also disturbs beef packers’ market valuation, fostering the spectre of import bans on meat from Brazil. Even more importantly, it calls into question why the National Development Bank (BNDES) – which is funded by the Brazilian National Treasury out of tax revenues – leveraged JBS and BRF in their recent global shopping spree to buy out overseas market leaders. Finally, it also raises issues of BNDES’ legitimacy in its management of the Amazon Fund, the widely acclaimed national results-based payment mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Shifting our diets is urgent

The livestock sector’s contribution to global climate change is undeniable – GHG emissions are estimated to account for 14,5% of global total, more than direct emissions from the transport sector. If we take in account the indirect emissions from land use changes to account for the feed industry, then we are looking at up to 30% of total global. Its role in providing protein to feed us is equally self-evident. FAO says the world needs to produce at last 50% more food by 2050 and that global meat consumption will reach 460 million tones in 2050, an increase of 65% on 2009. Some of the projections are quite scary – China’s meat consumption could double by 2030, for example. What are the options, then, to respond to growing demand for meat while avoiding further deforestation, ranching-related GHG emissions and associated social costs? Is it possible to reduce GHG emissions while meeting the protein needs of a global population that is projected to swell by another two billion people by 2050?

Recent analyses suggest that, without a shift in global meat and dairy consumption, it is unlikely global temperature rise can be kept below two degrees Celsius. Governments and environmental groups have proven to be reluctant to pursue policies or campaigns aiming to shift consumer behaviour. Knowledge on how best to reduce meat and dairy consumption is hampered by insufficient research funding. In addition, food choices tend to be shaped by taste, price, health and food safety, leaving climate change as a secondary consideration. Nevertheless, some of the greatest potential for behaviour change appears to lie in emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China.

To curtail livestock expansion, associated deforestation and its contribution to GHG emissions, the most important source of pressure must come from the major slaughterhouses themselves, as well from beef buyers and importing countries that insist on certified origin, transparency and safe labour conditions. Unfortunately, the Brazilian government has been unable to build an adequate traceability system to identify cattle origin due to vested interests in the current, chaotic status quo. Landholders also resist attempts to increase transparency, given that cattle ranching is often a means for money laundering and tax evasion. But if importing countries, major buyers and the finance sector firmly demand to know where and how cattle were raised, transparency is bound to improve.

For example, in response to the import requirements made by the European Union (EU), the Brazilian government enacted Law 12.097 in 2009, which demands traceability of the beef supply chain. Following EU requirements, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock established a task force with the objective of developing, improving and maintaining a cattle breeding and rearing information system, including registration of rural properties, control of animal transport (Animal Transit Guide, GTA) and services toward productive chain traceability.

This shows that Brazil will respond to international pressure. But the problem lies beyond external influence, since the tracking of individual animals still only exists ‘on paper’: it is expensive and far from the large-scale implementation needed for true transparency. Effective traceability is hampered by the fact that the GTA database is not publicly available (not even to the meatpacking companies) and the CAR database is poorly maintained and disconnected from the GTA data and from the federal agricultural management platform created to track cattle production.

Meat consumers of the world, unite!

Brazil is among the top 10 emitters of GHG emissions in the world, but Brazilians are not alone in driving Amazon deforestation. Nor can Brazil take sole responsibility for fixing these problems. Without addressing the chief driver of meat production – our consumption habits – we cannot radically reduce GHG emissions. Integrated crop-livestock-forestry systems, innovative technologies and awareness of other sources of protein are urgently needed. Better feed and breeding techniques may help. But food production factors must be considered jointly with consumption patterns: to link sustainable production with changes to diets. Indeed, the Paris Agreement recognizes the need to make both production processes and lifestyles more sustainable. Therefore, we call for more targeted research on consumers’ behaviour and values, awareness about protein futures beyond livestock intensification, publicity on the role livestock plays in driving climate change, shared responsibility between producers and consumers, and technology transfer.

For consumers, the questions persist: Do you know where the meat you eat comes from and what is ‘at steak’? Isn’t it time to cut back on your meat consumption?


The ‘broken method’: How Brazil’s deforesters are avoiding detection

Brazil has one of the most advanced deforestation monitoring systems in the world: the Program for the Estimation of Deforestation (PRODES). Implemented by the National Institute for Spatial Research (INPE), PRODES carries out satellite monitoring of deforestation in the Legal Amazon. Since 1988, it has been producing annual deforestation rates in the region, used by the Brazilian government to establish and enforce public policies. INPE also implements a Real-Time System for Detection of Deforestation (DETER) to promote in locu monitoring, and a forest degradation mapping system (DEGRAD). Government efforts to curb deforestation, particularly through command-and-control measures, are widely recognized as having played a key role in reducing deforestation, and Brazil has won international acclaim for curbing deforestation in recent years.

True, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has dropped by 71% since 2004. Yet the forest is still shrinking. Since 2012, deforestation has risen by almost 36%, mainly driven by a shift in the way forest lands are cleared. Previously, large swathes of the Amazon were clear-cut, leaving gaps in the forest that were easily detected in satellite images. But recent years have seen a rise in smaller patches of deforestation, highlighting the need for the federal government to increase monitoring in smallholder areas. Moreover, rates of forest degradation from selective logging, fire and fragmentation have remained high or are increasing in many areas, threatening the ecological functioning and integrity of many remaining areas of forest.

Blaming smallholders for these changes, however, is shortsighted. It has been observed that areas dominated by large properties still account for most of the deforestation, suggesting that larger landholders may have adapted their behavior by clearing smaller, incremental patches of forest that fall below the detection limits of the DETER system. A recent study also suggests that, since PRODES monitors only primary Amazon rainforest (not dry forests or secondary rainforests) and excludes plots smaller than 6.25 hectares, it ends up treating these areas as non-forest. By comparing PRODES maps with satellite sources that measure canopy cover of all forest areas, the study authors showed that, while deforestation in large plots of primary rainforests has declined, it has expanded in areas not tracked by PRODES.

Putting blinders on the eye in the sky

Evidence from different sources suggest that deforestation in the Amazon has been tailored to avoid PRODES detection. But none of these explains how. During field research in the state of Pará – where some of the highest rates of deforestation in the Amazon are found – I observed that landholders have developed new methods for escaping satellite monitoring. For example, the ‘broken method’ (método quebradão, in Portuguese) is used to clear forest without fire or other techniques that are easily identified by satellite or in situ. Landholders leave around 20% of the forest area standing and clear the remaining trees either manually (in the case of smallholders) or by aerial spraying of poison over the canopy, causing trees to die in different stages (in the case of large landholders). In this way, the forested patches are not fully cleared, making monitoring by satellite difficult.

Another way to ‘break the forest’ was recently identified by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in Pará: landholders first demarcated by GPS the area they planned to deforest, then set up several logging camps tasked to clear the shorter trees first. With the larger trees left standing, the canopy appears complete in satellite images, masking the true deforestation beneath.

These observations may help explain the significantly higher levels of forest degradation in areas dominated by large properties, where DEGRAD has identified small patches of deforested land as degraded. They also suggest that the increase in the number of small polygons in INPE’s deforestation data may be related to new deforestation methods adopted by landowners. This supports Richards et al. (2016) proposition that using INPE’s data to increase monitoring of forest loss in the Amazon may have incentivized landowners to deforest in ways and places that evade the monitoring and enforcement system. The authors also argue that PRODES-monitored deforestation no longer represents the full scope of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, and therefore has become less accurate as a component of the system Brazil uses to estimate GHG mitigation from avoided deforestation.

Austere times

Brazil is now facing one of the worst economic and political crises in its history. People in the Amazon would not expect controlling deforestation to be a priority under these circumstances. These adaptations on the ground show that enforcing rules is not a straightforward process, especially in Brazil. It also highlights the importance of tracking collective and individual feedback on policies and measures applied to complex situations such as governing forest landscapes. After all, humans are normally resistant to changing behavior, especially if change is imposed by others. Creatures of habit, we tend to focus on short-term gains rather than long-term, sustainable benefits.

The ability of landholders to change their behavior also depends on the repertoire of elements (such as materials, know how, etc.) they have at their disposal. Moreover, at the heart of the behavioral change process is an awareness of the problem that needs to be tackled (i.e. deforestation). It is only when individuals perceive the problem as urgent and worry about its negative consequences that they will consider acting. If Amazonian landholders are convinced that mitigating climate change by reducing deforestation is not their responsibility, believing instead that people in urban centers are solely responsible for modifying their behavior, they will not change their own.

Thus, it is critical to tailor deforestation-reduction policies to local needs, and to consider the possible local adaptations being implemented by landholders to evade enforcement. But given this week’s announcement of draconian austerity measures whether the Brazilian federal government will give the necessary attention to these issues become less uncertain at a time when democracy itself has been thrown under the bus.

How many people will need to die before we really open our eyes to forest destruction?

Last month, an inspiring forest defender was brutally murdered in the Brazilian municipality of Altamira, Pará.  Luis Alberto Araujo, former environmental secretary for São Felix do Xingu, was killed in his car as he and his family pulled into the driveway of their home.

Araujo was the secretary for the environment on the city council of Altamira, recently leading efforts to improve urban sanitation. He was also responsible for getting properties registered under the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR), especially in areas that have been traditionally resistant to registration. He was making a difference in the fight against high deforestation rates.

While in São Félix do Xingu, where he worked between 2009 and 2012, Araujo was responsible for implementing the Municipal Pact to Reduce Deforestation. During his mandate deforestation levels decreased sharply in São Félix, and his tenure was marked by impartiality and a strong drive to implement environmental legislation.

People like Araujo have made a significant impact in stopping the unsustainable exploitation of forest resources. But many risk their lives to do so. Despite this, the international environmental community has so far paid little attention to the human rights abuses that intersect with forest protection.

In 2014 at least 116 environmental and land defenders were murdered – nearly double the number of journalists killed over the same period. While there are several international campaigns to prevent the killing of journalists, there is little public awareness of, and pressure to end, the killing of environmental defenders.

How many more need die?

Is Brazil starting to lose the battle against deforestation?

In the past 10 years Brazil has reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levels more than any other country through a historic effort to decrease deforestation. The deforestation rate dropped by 71% between 2004 and 2015. But, while Brazil’s downward trend in deforestation has been impressive, this is now threatened by the weakening of conservation policies and by a recent increase in deforestation. Moreover, the social impacts of deforestation reduction in the past years are still uncertain.

 How did Brazil slow deforestation so effectively?

There are several reasons for the successful decrease in deforestation rates. First, Brazil has a sophisticated monitoring system that compiles high-resolution images of forest cover in the Amazon biome. Over the past 10 years, it has been providing real-time information to Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). Since 2004 IBAMA has been improving its enforcement strategies (e.g. confiscating material resources) and bringing other government agencies on board. This increased the effects of command and control measures on the ground at the same time that the national Plan for Prevention and Control Deforestation in the Amazon (PPCDAm) emerged as a key policy to reduce deforestation. PPCDAm integrated action across different government institutions and introduced novel procedures for monitoring, environmental control and territorial management.

Second, between 2002 and 2010 the federal government designated several protected areas in the Amazon and recognized many indigenous territories. And in 2007–8, new policy measures targeted priority municipalities with critical rates of deforestation (the so-called ‘federal blacklist’) and restricted rural credit to those who could provide proof of compliance with environmental regulations.

Finally, a series of demand-side measures started to play a key role in the process of reducing deforestation. Multi-stakeholder roundtable groups put together industry with non-governmental organizations, retailers and producers to increase the dialogue on how to better produce the commodities that drive deforestation. Zero-deforestation agreements or trade embargos in which an industry, retailer or producer agrees to not buy a commodity from illegally deforested lands have had several positive impacts.

Although this is a successful mix of measures that culminated with large reductions in deforestation rates in the Amazon, most of the impacts come largely from a more rigorous environmental monitoring and law enforcement. Or, in other words, increasing command and control measures. IBAMA has been monitoring priority municipalities more closely and dedicating a larger share of its resources to them. Licensing and georeferencing requirements for rural lands (mainly through the implementation of the rural environmental cadastre – CAR) are harsher and, in an effort to identify fraudulent documents and illegal occupations, private land titles were revised.

Why are deforestation levels raising again?

Current deforestation rates in the Amazon are the highest of the last four years. From August 2014 to July 2015, Brazil clear-cut 6,207 square kilometres, which represents a 24% increase over the previous period. In the past two years Brazil has faced one of the most turbulent political moments of its history. The economic and ethical crisis that has dominated the country – culminating with the impeachment of president Dilma Roussef in August 2016 – resulted in an 80% cut of the Ministry of Environment’s annual budget and in climate change being dropped from the national agenda. Policy is now moving in the opposite direction, with several new constitutional amendments that threaten forests and the environment. Among the most worrying policies and measures are:

  • The 2012 Forest Law, which grants amnesty to landowners who deforested illegally before 2008;
  • The lack of financial resources to keep deforestation monitoring in locu;
  • The reduction of the number of conservation units in the Amazon, leading to an increase in illegal occupation;
  • Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215, which requires Congress to approve the demarcation of indigenous lands;
  • Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 65, which will facilitate licensing for the construction of major infrastructure projects without evaluation and mitigation of environmental impacts;
  • Delaying twice the obligation for farmers to register their property under CAR and the obligation to restore or provide compensation for illegally deforested areas;
  • The proposed construction of 334 dams throughout the Amazon Basin;
  • The registration of over 1 million square kilometres of the Brazilian Amazon for mining.

Persistent concerns have also been raised about the potential negative impacts of command and control on local livelihoods and socioeconomic welfare of smallholders in the Amazon. The fact that command and control measures are effective only for smallholders, who fear being punished and cannot hire lawyers to challenge or disrupt administrative proceedings, was the main reason for the Forest Code amnesty. Assunção et al. (2015) also show how centralized measures that treat the Brazilian Amazon as a largely uniform target can create spillover and heterogeneous effects (i.e. adaptions in the behaviour of individuals who lead deforestation on the ground). Furthermore, in some cases it has also increased migration to less monitored areas, which may cause leakage.

The recent increase in deforestation levels is a clear sign of the possible shortcomings and problems of interventions based on prohibitions and punishments when applied to situations that are complex, non-linear, full of heterogeneities and difficult to understand – such as deforestation trends in the Brazilian Amazon. Land use change is still the main cause of GHG emissions in Brazil. 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. Meanwhile, Brazil is facing one of the most intense El Niños in recent decades – it has already exacerbated fires during the dry season all over the Amazon. With this increase in deforestation levels, the country calls into question decades of conservation efforts and the commitments assumed under the Paris Agreement, which should enter into force this month.


Economic sustainable chains in the Amazon: the role of innovation, local ownership and new institutional arrangements

In June 2016 the Amazon Fund, the main initiative for financing sustainable forest management in the Amazon biome, organized the first workshop to promote the exchange of experiences for sustainable chains between the different initiatives being supported by the fund. The event was attended by about 120 people, including public actors and NGOs, project beneficiaries, representatives of the fund and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), as well as technical consultants from the German Cooperation for Sustainable Development. Participants were divided in different groups to share lessons learned and debate successful solutions.

The workshop started by honouring the forest and its ancestors while Uiban from the HuniKuin  indigenous group, in the state of Acre, was singing. Juliana Santiago, head of the fund, then opened the first session emphasizing the importance of sustainable chains for reducing deforestation. “From the 81 initiatives currently supported by the fund, 44 include the development of sustainable productive activities, totalling BRL 300 million (USD 92 million) in support of various supply chains”, she added.

These investments resulted in 13,651 people trained for sustainable productive activities, 265 small organizations supported, 3,759 rural properties in sustainable production projects, 4,922 rural properties benefiting from technical assistance and rural extension, 6,923 hectares of reforested areas, plus BRL 50 million (USD 15 million) of additional income from the sale of fresh products and BRL 12 million (USD 4 million) of revenue from the sale of processed products.

Gabriel Visconti, head of the BNDES environmental area, pointed out the different reasons why the fund has been successful: the strong partnership with the Ministry of Environment; the institutional arrangement of the fund; but mainly the engagement of different actors (from donors to managers and local organizations) in an effective collaborative governance.

Economic activities: How to preserve the forest?

Participants debated the challenges of activities that promote sustainable production in the Amazon from the perspective of producers, public and private actors. For Luis Fernando Fonseca, from the Kaeté Investments, the main challenges are related to issues of logistics, infrastructure and transportation. “Although there was a progress in such initiatives, scaling up them remains a challenge”, he pointed out.

According to Juliana Simões, from the Brazilian secretariat of extrativism and sustainable rural development, logistics, transportation and infrastructure are challenges related to inter-sectoral policies. In her view it is time to better integrate public policies and to increase dialogue between different ministries. It is also important to add value to products that increase social and biodiversity positive outcomes. “There is a lack of information and understanding from the demand side about the potential of these products”, she emphasized.

Land tenure regularization, less bureaucracy for accessing financial resources, respecting diversity and increasing capacity of monitoring agents are crucial pieces for successful economic activities on the ground. Sérgio Lopes, from the Association of Smallholder Agroforestry Producers, affirmed that “without land titles it becomes impossible to guarantee long term sustainable activities”. It is also important to shape initiatives according to local heterogeneities and diversity, “there are many different realities on the ground”, he said. Increasing capacity of monitoring agents, so they are able to recognize different species and better monitor who is practicing activities that promote environmental degradation is also fundamental. “There is still a lot of burden and bureaucracy for the ones who work with sustainable activities”, Lopes concluded.

Structuring supply chains: What works?

Different representatives of civil society debated how to better structure supply chains. Empowering local organizations with dialogue, communication and transparency is the first step. For Rodrigo Junqueira, from the Socio-Environmental Institute, working with old partnerships increases the chances of successful outcomes.

Technology innovation also plays a key role in changing old production patterns, in creating sustainable solutions and in engaging the youth. Together with technical assistance and capacity building they promote better practices and positive outcomes in the long term. Having a hybrid basket of products for local productive arrangements and adding value to them is also important to reduce investments risks. Native seeds, for example, should get more attention in the process, once they are crucial for forest restoration but also for increasing local income. Negotiating tax exemptions with state agencies could support certain supply chains.

The group also pointed out that governmental organizations often are unaware of the reality of farmers and traditional peoples. In addition to public policies it is also important to increase the dialogue with local actors in order to promote openness and the ability to generate collective learning.

Paulo Cezar Nunes, from the Cooperative for Farmers in the Vale do Amanhecer, emphasised the cooperative integrated governance that supports women, agrarian settlers and indigenous in a way that privileges trust and complementarities of different actors and organizations. The cooperative is a good example of how production diversification can lead to economic sustainability, while partnerships with local governments can strengthen the institutional market.

Ana Patricia Gomes, from the Institute of Agricultural and Forest Management and Certification, presented the newly created initiative Origins Brazil, which functions as a collaborative platform connecting producers to buyers and consumers. Through QR Code technology, demand-side actors can access through their mobiles the information on communities and supply areas. This helps consumer to better choose their products and adds value to items that promote socio-environmental goals.

Local ownership for good practices and sustainable production

In this group, innovative strategies to deal with the challenges of the Amazon reality were debated by organizations working with large territories in the area. Alexandre Olival, from Ouro Verde Institute, shared lessons from the Sementes do Portal initiative where local and regional committees work together to stimulate local ownership and dissemination of different technologies. Communication and conflict management form a solid basis for successful outcomes.

Strengthening of local organizations is at the heart of The Nature Conservancy strategies with indigenous lands in the Amazon, according to Fernando Bittencourt. “Capacity building for enhancing indigenous autonomy is key in this process”, he added. Increasing capacity and supporting local households for environmental and social entrepreneurships are strategies also implemented by the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation. According to Eduardo Taveira, systematizing and disseminating the content, methodologies, lessons learned and innovative solutions could lead to better practices.

The participation of local actors in all stages of initiatives implementation should be central and investments in communication and transparency can not be neglected. Monitoring results from time to time and capturing local perceptions on the strategies being implemented is vital for guaranteeing effectiveness. Technical assistance that include the youth is also key for fostering long term results. According to the group, reconciling land use planning with sustainable productive alternatives helps to promote sustainability. Finally, constant communication with the Amazon Fund team helps avoiding problems of management and accountability and also exposes the difficulties of the initiatives in the Amazon region.

Cultural change: the tipping point

The event closed with Juliana Santiago on messages about how structuring the chains of sociobiodiversity products is fundamental in the process of building an environmentally sustainable economy in the Amazon. She pointed out how important financial resources from Amazon Fund are in this process, but without local organization it seems utopic to reach successful outcomes. There are also still a number of challenges to overcome, but one of the main needs “is to accelerate cultural change aimed at valuing social biodiversity products and at promoting the development of technical and regulatory frameworks compatible with the specificities of these supply chains”, she concluded.




Results-based payments in the Brazilian Amazon: why local participation, creativity and scale are vital

Seven years after it was created, in 2008, the Amazon Fund is now the best example of a national results-based payment mechanism. A high-level panel discussed the main lessons and challenges of the fund during the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris in a session entitled “Amazon Fund – from results-based payments to the experiences on the ground”.

Juliana Santiago, head of the Fund, opened the session emphasizing that new development models are needed for the Amazon. But “development does not take place unless is achieved by the country itself”, she said highlighting the role country ownership plays in creating innovative approaches for integrating forest conservation and development.

Juliana also pointed out that one of the main challenges of the fund was to determine how resources would reach the ground. “We need partner organizations with solid experience in working with local communities”, she said. “With their support, financial resources are more likely to reach local entrepreneurs”.

New development models: a matter of local trust, innovation and money

All the panellists stressed the crucial role of local participation in developing new models for sustainable rural economic development. It was clear from the session that local land users need to be at the heart of decision-making and planning. But participation needs to go beyond solely providing information; it needs to be democratic and interactive. The costs of implementing such processes, however, are high.

“Its simpler to be said than to be done”, emphasized Virgilio Viana, director of Sustainable Amazonas Foundation (FAS).  As crucial as it is, active and frequent participation is many times challenged by logistics and high costs as most of the communities that benefit from the fund live far away in the forest. “Trust is very important in this process”, said Virgilio.

Adriana Ramos, director of the Policy and Law Program of the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), on the other hand, affirmed that “to find this new model of development we better learn from who is already doing it”. Indigenous people, she pointed out, “have a large repertory of forest management techniques and practices that help conserve tropical forests”. This transition process would require, though, to go beyond indigenous people participation and allow social learning methods that would lead to innovation and creative solutions. “If we want to find this model we need to be open to new solutions and take risks”, she said. “It is a huge mistake to think that indigenous people live in the past”, she completed.

When asked what can be done to increase financing from private sources – given that so far the vast majority of financial support comes from public rather than private sources – Virgilio explained the recent phenomenon that foreign philanthropy is leaving Brazil because of the current economic crisis in the country and Brazilian philanthropy is not yet moving in at the same rate and at the scale required. “Opportunities to attract private investment would be around the biodiversity of the Amazon in particular for two industries, the pharmaceutical and the cosmetics sectors. Currently we don’t have private investments at the scale yet needed to ensure that forests are worth standing more than cut down”, he completed.

Paying for results, but how to measure and who owns the carbon?

Attribution of results to the fund payments is still challenging to measure. “How much did it cost to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80%, who paid for it and what was the role for the Amazon Fund?” – asked one of the participants in the session. The panellists jointly elaborated that the costs, in terms of financial resources, might not be known. But it certainly took a great deal of political will and a joint effort between the federal level, states, civil society and private sector to integrate policies and render them effective.

Amy Duchelle, scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), highlighted some early positive livelihood and land use outcomes at sites supported by the Amazon Fund and included in CIFOR’s long-term Global Comparative Study on REDD+. She also emphasized the challenges of cross-scale coordination in monitoring and evaluation, and stressed the importance of “engaging farmers and communities in monitoring efforts as local data is really key to understand the effectiveness of any intervention”.

“Who owns the carbon in the Amazon?”- another interesting question raised in the session – was definitely the most controversy point. Answers ranged from “God”, to “if in the indigenous territories the indigenous peoples”, to “its complicated.” Virgilio added: “the holder of carbon rights could be those who own the land or those who do the job, or a combination of both”. For instance, the Brazilian federal government is still regulating legal aspects of REDD+. The state governments have been fighting for getting a slice of the “carbon cake” (which can be worked out through a so called nested approach) but this is currently still rather theoretical and not yet transformed into policies.

Lessons and challenges: Need for land use planning, technological development and integrated value chains

Some important lessons can be gleaned from the first years of fund implementation.  Of critical importance is land use planning, along with scientific and technological development to build lasting capacity and increase knowledge. Challenges arise from the landscape approach on how to better link the practical aspects of implementation on the ground with national and global decision-making processes. The question of how rural economic development can also translate into forest protection is still a central challenge too.

Osvaldo Stella, director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), emphasized the importance of creating a “land sharing model with the inclusion of settlers that enables diverse land uses to take place, linking technical assistance to economic incentives and disincentives such as regulating access to rural credits”. He also highlighted the need to create a regional approach that caters for larger changes. For this, according to him, “we need a better integration of public policies and to think along larger value chains in order to reach scale”.

Final messages stressed the importance of connecting the local with the international level. Adriana pointed out that “it is very easy to discuss climate change in Paris – where we can’t really feel it” – affirming that if we were in the Amazon we would reach results easily. Amy completed saying that “we need to value what is happening on the ground, take the lessons learned there and apply them to higher level decision making”.