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Strong ‘no deforestation’ commitments save forests and feed people is partnering with the Skoll Foundation ahead of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship to bring a series of perspectives that aim to answer the question: how do we feed the world and still address the drivers of deforestation?

Soy, cattle, rice, palm oil, and logging are the principal drivers of deforestation. As global population increases from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2040, and as more and more people around the world rise out of poverty into the middle class, the demand for these commodities and practices will continue to rise with them. To address these issues, and in advance of the World Forests Summit hosted by the Economist in March, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship partnered with the Stanford Institute for the Environment and Mongabay News to surface the latest insights and innovations at the intersection of deforestation and sustainability. This debate will also set the stage for a larger discussion on deforestation at this year’s Skoll World Forum in Oxford, UK.

“How do you hold a hundred tons of water in the air with no visible means of support? You build a cloud” – K.C Cole

As a global community, we have so far failed to answer this most pressing question; we have yet to build our cloud. Deforestation rates are down in some places, but overall, our forests continue to disappear much as they have for the past 50 years, driven principally by increasing global demand for food. Can we feed the world and save our forests? Yes, we can, and the solution lies in the global supply chain and the message some companies are now sending their suppliers: “If you cut down trees, I won’t buy your product.” This has the power to silence bulldozers. It’s already doing so and now it’s time to go to scale.

The current deforestation debate has narrow bounds. We’re still discussing modifying or accelerating uptake of the same old tools that have so far failed to stem the tide. Take roundtable certification – we apparently just need more of it or more important companies to do it. Yet, it seems nonsensical to promote roundtable certification when twenty years of roundtable certification has preceded the discussion.

Deforestation for palm oil in Borneo.

Similarly, REDD+ and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) are not off the ground enough to make anything but a restricted local impact. They’re not new initiatives, they’re just not happening, and it’s not for lack of money – there’s something inherent stopping their uptake. Sure, we could have more meetings to try to push them through some tipping point but no one knows where that tipping point is, nor how much time and resources are needed to get us there, if ever. Time is something our remaining forests have in short supply, which makes it doubly odd to hail Consumer Goods Forum CEOs environmental heroes for their irresponsibly weak commitment to no “net” deforestation by 2020; another seven years of deforestation, what are we thinking?

All the while, global supply chains are chopping trees. Food companies and supermarkets have within their supply chains the power to feed a growing population and stop deforestation. While millions of dollars and endless meeting hours go into trying to create new markets for REDD+ and PES, global supply chains already have fully functional markets operating every second of every day with trillions of dollars running through them. The answer is staring us in the face.

“The solution lies in the global supply chain and the message some companies are now sending their suppliers: “If you cut down trees, I won’t buy your product.” This has the power to silence bulldozers – it’s already doing so. Now it’s time to go to scale.”

We need strong ‘No Deforestation’ commitments enforced by companies throughout the supply chain with mechanisms to reward and teeth to punish. They fit with the market and are simple: “Deforest and I will not buy your product”. This great start is made exponentially stronger when contracts are cancelled because suppliers are engaged in deforestation. Such commitments held and enforced by everyone in the supply chain act like the Brazil soy moratorium – they restrict land available for cultivation to non-forest land. And if it were a constant refrain sung by the top 100 companies, it becomes much stronger than a politically imposed, and thus fragile, moratorium; it becomes just another part of doing business. Backed by civil society eyes and ears on the ground to monitor company performance against their No Deforestation commitments and to expose, via social media, those caught misbehaving and we have a true multi-stakeholder process to restrict deforestation. By restricting the available land bank, we also have a very strong mechanism to drive yield improvements from the available land to feed growing populations.

Scott Poynton

Founder & Executive Director, The Forest Trust

Scott Poynton is an Australian forester who founded the Tropical Forest Trust (TFT) in March 1999. TFT became The Forest Trust in 2009 to reflect the organization’s growing global scope beyond the tropics though it still works predominantly on issues surrounding deforestation in the tropics. TFT works with businesses to help them bring responsible products to market. Poynton sees deforestation as essentially a supply chain issue so working with companies to exclude deforestation from their products is a major focus of his and TFT’s work. Businesses have to make money to make such commitments work and so Poynton and TFT help companies tell their responsible product stories in the hope that they’ll make more money and employ more people by doing good business.

We push roundtable certification, REDD+ and PES and celebrate weak No Deforestation commitments because our analysis of the problem is lazy – we’ve failed to push our thinking right down to the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD). Soy, cattle, rice, palm oil and wood fiber are agro-industrial commodities exploding in scale at the expense of forests because globalized supply chainsdemand them. Globalization is the LCD, the principal driver of deforestation, not soy or rice farmers, cattle ranchers, palm oil plantation or forest managers. All our efforts to control deforestation so far focus on these people. We see them as the problem and so develop standards to guide and control their activities, all the while hoping that industries full of them will go our way. They haven’t because their customers haven’t yet asked them to do so; it’s that simple.

REDD+, PES and roundtable certification fail because they don’t reward global supply chain players for slowing deforestation; quite the contrary in some cases. Companies cut down forests so why would paying money to governments under REDD+ affect deforestation rates? Likewise, in PES schemes – who gets the money? Who pays it? Not the customer, so the signals are not clear for global supply chain players.

Our cloud has three pillars:

  1. Stop cutting trees.
  2. Increase crop yields on lands you already have.
  3. Engage with local communities and help smallholders upscale.

You stop deforestation and feed the world by restricting and intensifying production on land you use.

Change is happening. The world’s largest food company, Nestle, the world’s second largest palm oil grower, Golden-Agri Resources and now, the world’s third largest pulp and paper company, Asia Pulp & Paper, have already made super strong No Deforestation commitments that are being implemented as we speak. Such commitments turn bulldozers off – now. They do not require workshops, meetings, millions of dollars or the creation of complex markets with thousands of mitigation measures. No Deforestation commitments send strong signals through the existing multi-trillion dollar globalized market – via global supply chains – and forests are being protected today as a direct result.

It’s so far nowhere near enough; we need to go to scale. We need leaders who others can follow, more who will say: “If you cut down trees, I will not buy your product.” Its beauty lies in its simplicity. It’s a cloud, let’s build it.

To discuss this commentary, please visit Strong ‘no deforestation’ commitments save forests and feed people


6 lessons for stopping deforestation on the frontier

(04/09/2013) In 1984, at the tail end of the Brazilian dictatorship, I took up residence in a frontier town called Paragominas in the eastern Amazon. I went to study rainforests and pasture restoration, but soon became captivated as well by the drama of the frontier itself. Forests were hotly contested among cattle ranchers, smallholder communities, land speculators and more than a hundred logging companies, sometimes with fatal results. If we are to meet rising global demand for food, conserve tropical forests, and mitigate climate change at the pace that is necessary, we must become much better at taming aggressive, lawless tropical forest frontiers where people are making a lot of money cutting forests down.

Can we meet rising food demand and save forests?

(04/03/2013) A few weeks ago the Skoll World Forum hosted an online debate on how increased global consumption can be balanced with sustainability. The debate asks how a rapidly growing world that is ever consuming can hope to feed everyone, and at the same time address the deforestation that is emitting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and destroying the world’s greatest tropical forests. Many contributors made very strong points—even contradicting one another in their approaches and ideas.

Strong ‘no deforestation’ commitments save forests and feed people

(03/12/2013) As a global community, we have so far failed to answer this most pressing question; we have yet to build our cloud. Deforestation rates are down in some places, but overall, our forests continue to disappear much as they have for the past 50 years, driven principally by increasing global demand for food. Can we feed the world and save our forests? Yes, we can, and the solution lies in the global supply chain and the message some companies are now sending their suppliers: ‘If you cut down trees, I won’t buy your product.’ This has the power to silence bulldozers. It’s already doing so and now it’s time to go to scale.

The need to jump-start REDD to save forests

(03/08/2013) At least US$7.3 billion has been pledged for REDD+ over the period from 2008 to 2015, with $4.3 billion pledged for REDD+ readiness during the fast-start period alone (2010-2012). In addition to these funds, private investors, private foundations, and others have been channeling financial support to developing countries for REDD+ and related programs for several years now.

A promising initiative to address deforestation in Brazil at the local level

(03/05/2013) The history of the Brazilian Amazon has long been marked by deforestation and degradation. Until recently the situation has been considered out of control. Then, in 2004, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to combat deforestation. Public pressure—both national and international—was one of the reasons that motivated the government to act. Another reason was that in 2004, deforestation contributed to more than 55 percent of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

Saving forests by putting a price on them

(03/04/2013) During the 2013 SuperBowl, the championship game of the US National Football League, a truck company aired an advertisement that likened farmers to God’s favorite assistant. It suggested that when God needs something tough, or gentle, done, he calls a farmer. The narration, taken from a speech given to the Future Farmers of America in 1978 by Paul Harvey, a radio host, plays directly to the near mythical stature of farmers and ranchers in American culture and their deep connection to nature.

Saving forests by stemming agricultural sprawl

(03/01/2013) I’m fortunate to travel the world helping conserve habitats for some of the world’s most iconic species. When I visit places like the Amazon and Sumatra, I’m still awestruck by their diversity and pristine beauty. I’m also reminded how threatened they are. Our growing demand for food and fiber is fueling deforestation in resource-rich regions of the world. As environmentalists, if we don’t change where and how we produce food and fiber, we can turn off the lights and go home. There won’t be any biodiversity left to protect.

Can saving forests help feed the world?

(02/28/2013) As world population climbs from 7 to a projected 9 billion people and emerging and developing economies demand ever more of the food and fiber that drive deforestation, many environmentalists ask with increasing urgency whether and how tropical forests can survive. But the question may actually be whether and how the world’s increasing, and increasingly rich, population can be fed unless tropical forests survive.

The challenge of putting Brazil’s forests in good hands

(02/28/2013) People often associate Brazil with its forests. It’s no wonder given that nearly 60% of the country’s territory is covered by forest and it holds about one-third of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests. You might assume that a country like this would care about educating people to sustainably manage this precious heritage. Well, you’d be wrong!

The corporate conservation revolution

(02/27/2013) There’s a new kind of environmental hero emerging. They don’t live in Washington, D.C., and they’re known more for their interest in increasing earnings than in reducing greenhouse gases. They are found in an unlikely place: The Corporate Boardroom, and they’re making a big difference in saving the worlds forests and our climate. In recent years, a group of visionary corporate leaders have been quietly teaming up with a growing number of environmental groups to take a hard look at what’s left of our planet’s natural resources. Together, they agree: we are past the point where our land and oceans can meet the food, energy and commodity demands of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this op-ed do not necessarily reflect the views of or its staff. Mongabay founder, president, and editor Rhett A. Butler served as an advisor to the Skoll Foundation from 2010-2012.

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