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There is a huge gap between the amount of food available today and the amount required in 2050. We will need about 70 percent more food calories in 2050 than in 2006 if global demand continues on its current trajectory. Estimates show that an expansion of between 69 and 655 million hectares between 2009 and 2050 is needed based on the continuation of recent crop yield trends. (FAO, Bajzelj et al. (2014)). Agriculture will need to meet this demand, contribute to economic and social development, and at the same time reduce its impact on the environment. According to the World Bank, growth in the agricultural sector can reduce poverty more effectively than growth in other economic sectors; it already employs more than 28% of the global population directly or indirectly.

However, agriculture was responsible for around 24% of global GHG emissions in 2010. The expansion of commodity crop production has been a leading driver of deforestation in many of the world’s remaining major forests, causing a loss of valuable carbon sinks and other services crucial to our survival such as clean air and water, and livelihoods for forest-dependent peoples. Large forest-ecoregions are under growing pressure for conversion into agricultural land, and therefore mass-deforestation is a real and present danger. This is why it is crucial that we find a way of integrating agriculture with the protection of forests for their carbon emissions reductions services, ensuring sustainable land-use and resilient supply chains.

Ensuring sustainable supply chains is complex and interventions, although necessary, are generally slow to achieve significant results. Many commitments have been made by governments and companies to reduce deforestation resulting from the production of commodity crops, but progress in achieving the goals set out in these commitments has been slow and uneven. Some of the most important international commitments on reducing deforestation from commodities include:

  • The UN Sustainable Development Goal 15: “By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally”.
  • The New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) : signed by 190 governments, companies, indigenous peoples and NGOs, includes Goal 2: “Support and help meet the private-sector goal of eliminating deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, paper, and beef products by no later than 2020”.
  • The Consumer Goods Forum, with its 400 member companies, has committed to zero net deforestation by 2020 for palm oil, soy, beef, and paper and pulp supply chains.
  • The Rio Branco Declaration was made by 38 sub-national governments participating in the Governors’ Climate and Forest Task Force to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020.

This is why market transformation and private sector involvement is essential in order to implement these zero-deforestation commitments, de-link supply chains from deforestation, and find a long-term sustainable, resilient pathway for commodities production. A transition towards sustainable land use requires improving livelihoods of farmers and forest-dependent communities, and therefore reducing their incentives to expand into forested lands. This is done, among other things, by diversifying income sources. 

The good news is, natural climate solutions like forest conservation and regenerative agriculture are a massive, untapped opportunity for impact and can deliver 37% of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to secure a <2future (Bronson W. Griscom et al. PNAS 2017;114:11645-11650). Investing in forest protection strategies coupled with deforestation free supply chain models is an effective and immediate way to act. Forest conservation through carbon finance is an immediate way of ensuring that sustainable land use competes with unsustainable practices by giving value to standing forests. This should be utilised as part of a smooth transition strategy towards deforestation free commodities.

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