GRSB Joint Working Group on Land Use Change

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Mechanisms for Control and Mitigation of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon Biome

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Explaining the persistence of low income and environmentally degrading land uses in the Brazilian Amazon

Journal Article - Sustainability

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Tropical forests continue to be plagued by the dual sustainability challenges of deforestation and rural poverty. We seek to understand why many of the farmers living in the Brazilian Amazon, home to the world’s largest tropical agricultural-forest frontier, persist in agricultural activities associated with low incomes and high environmental damage. To answer this question, we assess the factors that shape the development and distribution of agricultural activities and farmer well-being in these frontiers. Our study utilizes a uniquely comprehensive social-ecological dataset from two regions in the eastern Brazilian Amazon and employs a novel conceptual framework that highlights the interdependencies between household attributes, agricultural activities, and well-being. We find that livestock production, which yields the lowest per hectare incomes, remains the most prevalent land use in remote areas, but many examples of high income fruit, horticulture, and staple crop production exist on small properties, particularly in peri-urban areas. The transition to more profitable land uses is limited by lagging supply chain infrastructure, social preferences, and the fact that income associated with land use activities is not a primary source of perceived life quality. Instead subjective well-being is more heavily influenced by the nonmonetary attributes of a rural lifestyle (safety, tranquility, community relations, etc.). We conclude that transitions away from low-income land uses in agricultural-forest frontiers of the Brazilian Amazon need not abandon a land-focused vision of development, but will require policies and programs that identify and discriminate households based on a broader set of household assets, cultural attributes, and aspirations than are traditionally applied. At a broader scale, access to distant markets for high value crops must be improved via investments in processing, storage, and marketing infrastructure.

The Restructuring of South American Soy and Beef Production and Trade Under Changing Environmental Regulations

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August 14, 2017

In response to the extensive loss of forests caused by soy and cattle expansion in South America, several countries have increased their legal restrictions on deforestation, and stepped up their enforcement. In addition, in the Brazilian Amazon, new private agreements were initiated in 2006 and 2009 to limit the purchase of soy and cattle linked with deforestation. One concern is that such policies, because they are spatially heterogeneous or focus on a subset of relevant actors, might generate negative spillovers in the form of leakage of agricultural activities and deforestation to less-regulated areas, and/or a redistribution of non-compliant product sales to non-participants. In this study, we use panel data on soy and beef production and trade in agricultural frontiers of South America to examine how changes in deforestation regulations in South America have altered soy and cattle expansion and exports in this region, and to understand how these changes, if they have occurred, influence the overall effectiveness of deforestation regulations. We find no evidence of a change in soy or pasture area expansion patterns due to changes in regulations, except within the Amazon biome where pasture expansion slowed in response to more stringent regulations and coincided with pasture intensification. We do find, however, a decrease in beef imports from biomes with more stringent deforestation regulations. While this decrease may indicate the existence of leakage to countries outside the study area, it is likely offset by pasture intensification, continued opportunities for deforestation, and increasing domestic consumption from these biomes. These results point to the potential role of substitution effects between local and international consumer markets, and between different actors, in diminishing the overall effectiveness of deforestation regulations.

Limits of Brazil's Forest Code as a means to end illegal deforestation 

Journal Article - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Brazil’s new Forest Code has the potential to halt illegal deforestation in the country’s native forests and savannas through implementation of a federal land registry—along with powerful tools that facilitate enforcement and give landowners a pathway to restoring or compensating their “forest deficits.” This study suggests that these tools fall short of their promise. Although landowners in eastern Amazonia have been motivated to join state land registries, many continue to deforest and few have restored their illegally cleared areas. Results indicate that the economic benefits of full compliance with the Forest Code remain scant. To end deforestation, Brazil must realign its financial and policy incentives to encourage this outcome. The fate of the country’s forests hangs in the balance.

Incentives to save the forest: Financial instruments to drive sustainable land use

Unsustainable farming and logging is behind most tropical deforestation. There are more sustainable methods that address this by using the land more efficiently, reducing deforestation, but farmers, producers and others will not make this switch automatically. This briefing describes how governments and companies can use basic financial instruments to channel greater investment in this area. There is a lot of discussion of financial instruments and 'innovative financial mechanisms' in conservation circles, but many people working in this area are not experts in finance. This document aims to bridge this gap, helping conservation and development experts understand some of the opportunities for financing sustainable land use.

Costs, Benefits and Challenges of Sustainable Livestock Intensification in a Major Deforestation Frontier in the Brazilian Amazon

Journal Article - Sustainability

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May 5, 2017

Extensive livestock production is a major deforestation driver in the Brazilian Amazon. This study presents an assessment of the economic and environmental feasibility of sustainable livestock intensification in São Félix do Xingu municipality, a deforestation frontier with an area of more than 8.5 million hectares, and home to the largest cattle herd in Brazil. To move to sustainable intensification practices, a mean total annual investment of US$1335/ha ± US$619/ha would be necessary, varying from US$750 to US$2595/ha. Internal rate of return and net present value estimates indicated that the sustainable livestock intensification approach proposed was profitable in farms with more than 400 hectares of pastureland, but not in those where the pasture areas were smaller than 150 hectares. Livestock sustainable intensification also had the potential to promote social and environmental benefits, including a 54% increase in the number of contract workers, improvement of landowners’ managerial skills, and workers’ training, in addition to avoiding emission of 1.9 Mt CO2eq and sequestration of 0.36 Mt CO2eq. We conclude that the sustainable intensification of pasture areas has the potential to prevent further deforestation in the Amazon while generating social and other environmental benefits.

Revenue at risk: Why addressing deforestation is critical to business success

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December 10, 2016

Reducing deforestation and restoring the world's degraded forests is critical to meeting the targets under the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. By acting on deforestation, companies will not only increase the resilience of their supply chains but also play a key part in the solution. CDP data shows that up to U$906 billion in revenue is at risk because of deforestation. This means there is a lot at stake. Companies' deforestation risk management activities and engagement across their supply chains is essential to meet their future business needs and protect long-term value. Here we will set out the risk of deforestation to companies, explore the opportunities available and see how engaging with supply chains can ensure future growth. 

Progress on the New York Declaration on Forests. An Assessment Framework and Initial Report

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November 18, 2016

In September 2014, a broad coalition of governments, corporations, indigenous peoples' organizations, and nongovernmental organizations signed the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), thereby endorsing its 10 goals. Achieving NYDF goals could reduce the global emissions of greenhouse gases by 4.5-8.8 billion metric tons every year. 

Goal 1 is to halt natural forest loss by 2030, with a 2020 milestone of a 50% reduction. Most other goals are subsidiary to Goal 1, including halting deforestation from agricultural supply chains (Goal 2), reducing deforestation from other economic sectors (Goal 3), and supporting alternatives to deforestation driven by poverty and basic needs (Goal 4). One goal is aimed at restoring 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 and an additional 200 million hectares by 2030 (Goal 5). Another set of goals aims at improving the enabling environment to help signatories and other entities meet the deforestation goals. These goals include establishing a strong international framework (Goals 6 and 7), better fnancing (Goals 8 and 9), and improved forest governance with more secure forest and land rights for local communities and indigenous peoples (Goal 10).

One year after the adoption of the NYDF is too early to draw conclusions about progress in most areas. But in the past year, new initiatives have been launched, additional commitments have been made, and implementation of relevant programs has begun. These are important steps in the right direction and may help accelerate trends toward achieving the NYDF goals. Still, overall progress remains slow and more action is urgently needed.

New Website Beta Launch - "A Path Towards Zero-Deforestation Cattle"

Click here to access the website (best viewed in Google Chrome) 

May 12, 2015

This website was developed as a collaborative project between the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Gibbs Land Use and Environment Lab (GLUE). The site aims to showcase how supply chain initiatives are supporting effective solutions for verified zero-deforestation beef, leather, and tallow production in the Brazilian Amazon. The site also highlights ways for supply chain actors to support continuous improvement and ensure that cattle products sourced from this region do not contribute to the loss of tropical forests. This website is intended to be a resource for procurement and sustainability professionals, and will continue to evolve as new research, data, and analysis becomes available.

New supply chain interventions offer promise to reduce deforestation from expansion of commercial agriculture, as more multinational companies agree to stop sourcing from farms with recent forest clearing. We analyzed the zero-deforestation cattle agreements signed by major meatpacking companies in the Brazilian Amazon state of Pará using property-level data on beef supply chains. Our panel analysis of daily purchases by slaughterhouses before and after the agreements demonstrates that they now avoid purchasing from properties with deforestation, which was not the case prior to the agreements. Supplying ranchers registered their properties in a public environmental registry nearly 2 years before surrounding non-supplying properties, and 85% of surveyed ranchers indicated that the agreements were the driving force. In addition, supplying properties had significantly reduced deforestation rates following the agreements. Our results demonstrate important changes in the beef supply chain, but the agreements’ narrow scope and implementation diminish outcomes for forest conservation.

Investing in Smart Production: GRSB - GTPS Joint Working Group on Forests (JWG) Workshop Report

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January, 2015 

On November 5, 2014, the GRSB-GTPS Joint Working Group on Forests (JWG), in collaboration with the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020), held a technical workshop titled Investing in Smart Production during the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef in São Paulo, Brazil. The workshop sought to address the challenges involved with integrating the benefits of deforestation-free cattle production and moderate intensification, and fostering investment conditions to facilitate productive and sustainable ranching practices. 

When enough should be enough: Improving the use of current agricultural lands could meet production demands and spare natural habitats in Brazil 

Journal Article - Global Environmental Change

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September, 2014

The current productivity of Brazilian cultivated pasturelands is 32–34% of its potential and increasing productivity to 49–52% of the potential would suffice to meet demands for meat, crops, wood products and biofuels until at least 2040, without further conversion of natural ecosystems. As a result up to 14.3 Gt CO2 Eq could be mitigated.

Cattle ranching intensification in Brazil can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by sparing land from deforestation 

Journal Article - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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April 25, 2014

This study examines whether policies to encourage cattle ranching intensification in Brazil can abate global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by sparing land from deforestation. We use an economic model of global land use to investigate, from 2010 to 2030, the global agricultural outcomes, land use changes, and GHG abatement resulting from two potential Brazilian policies: a tax on cattle from conventional pasture and a subsidy for cattle from semi-intensive pasture. We find that under either policy, Brazil could achieve considerable sparing of forests and abatement of GHGs, in line with its national policy targets.

 Brazil's Three Largest Meatpackers are working to Reduce Deforestation 

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April 3, 2014

The three largest meatpackers in Brazil - JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva - have developed effective systems to regulate their purchase of cattle in the Amazon Biome. According to results from company audits (which covered operations in 2013), the meatpackers have systems in place to block the purchase of cattle from ranches with deforestation, slave labor, or ranches located on indigenous lands or conversation areas in the Amazon. The company audits detailed their geo-referencing systems that map the property boundaries of their suppliers. The level of non-compliance by these three companies, based on the 2009 Greenpeace Cattle Agreement, was less than 1 percent for all criteria. The results of these audits indicate that JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva have made strides to eliminate deforestation from their operations. For more information regarding the individual company audits, please see the links below. 

JBS (English & Portuguese) 

Marfrig (English & Portuguese) 

Minerva (Portuguese) 

Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions

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February 24, 2014


A new scientific paper finds reducing deforestation through intensifying cattle production, using improved pasture management as well as alternate feed, can play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock.

Lead author, Petr Havlik of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis told the Joint Working Group, “If enabling conditions were in place, cost efficient livestock production systems transitions would allow to spare 56 million ha of forests by 2030"

Production & Protection: A First Look at Key Challenges in Brazil

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December 3, 2013


A Climate Policy Initiative report, supported by the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, finds that Brazil can meet agricultural production targets while protecting forests and other ecosystems.


"There is ample scope for enhanced protection of natural resources and growth of agricultural production in Brazil within a Production and Protection framework. From a protection standpoint, the country would benefit from developing mechanisms that significantly drive up the private cost of clearing native vegetation, as well as through the advancement of market-based incentives that promote sustainable practices. From a production standpoint, there is room to increase Brazilian agricultural production via productivity gains, at no apparent cost to environmental conservation."

Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) - Global Forests Report 2013 

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November 20, 2013

CDP’s forests program acts on behalf of investors to collect information from companies on the operational, reputational and regulatory risks resulting from their exposure to deforestation, which accounts for 10-15% of global CO2 emissions.

In 2013, 139 companies, with market capitalization in excess of US$3 trillion, responded to CDP’s request for information on management of deforestation risk in their operations and supply chains. Thirteen new companies that had not previously responded to the survey disclosed on cattle products. New company disclosures on cattle products span a wide range of commercial sectors, including; food & staples retailing; hotels, restaurants & leisure; and industrial & autos. 

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Conference of Parties (COP) 19 

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Cutting Emissions from Deforestation - “The Warsaw Framework for REDD+”

“Governments agreed on a set of decisions on ways to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The decisions are the culmination of 7 years of work, and their agreement comes as a clear breakthrough for action on climate change. Global deforestation accounts for some 20 percent of the world's CO2 emissions. The set of decisions bolsters forest preservation and sustainable use of forests with direct benefits for people who live in and around forests. The package provides a foundation for the transparency and integrity of actions and clarifies the coordination of support. It establishes the means for results-based payments if developing countries can demonstrate the protection of forests. For this purpose, the package is backed by initial pledges of USD 280 million.”

Walmart and Marfrig work to improve environmental compliance in the Brazilian Amazon 

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April 9, 2013

Walmart, Marfrig and conservation NGO The Nature Conservancy launched a project in the Brazilian Amazon to provide support for ranchers for improving productivity, complying with environmental legislation and accessing finance.

Gucci Goes Sustainable: New Handbag Line Made with Leather from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Ranches 

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March 4, 2013

The world's first products made from Rainforest Alliance certified leather are launched by Gucci at Paris Fashion Week. The leather comes from ranches in Mato Grosso, Brazil, processed by Marfrig and turned into purses sold in Gucci stores around the world.

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