This is the final part of a series of blog post discussing the “no-deforestation” requirements in relation to global forestry and agricultural commodities. Part I of this series examined the definitions of forest and deforestation whereas Part II focused on the consequences and the underlying drivers of deforestation. In this final part, I will highlight 1) the existing initiatives on deforestation and 2) the main “no-deforestation” regulations or requirements.      

1) What are the initiatives on deforestation?

As pointed out in Part I and II, deforestation remains a major developmental challenge. There are currently many initiatives geared towards reducing and potentially reversing global deforestation trends. The existing initiatives can be generally categorized into five main groups as outlined below.

  1. Global Level Intergovernmental Efforts: This encompasses deforestation initiatives that are linked to international legal instruments such as the Paris Agreement (PA, 2015), The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG, 2015) and the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC, 1994). An example of such initiative is the REDD+ (Reducing Emission for Deforestation and Forest Degradation) program which offers financial incentives, through the Green Climate Fund (GCF), to countries that can demonstrate that they are 1) reducing deforestation and forest degradation, 2) managing their forests sustainably, and 3) conserving and enhancing carbon stocks in forest.
  2. Voluntary, non-binding, international commitments:Because the root cause of deforestation often transcends national boundaries, synergies among diverse actors, particularly those within agricultural commodity value chains, are required to address the problem. Recognizing this, several global brands and companies have voluntarily committed to reducing deforestation.  For example, the New York Declaration on Forests (2014) brings together over 200 national governments, multi-national companies, NGOs and other groups with the aim of ending forest loss by 2030.
  3. Regional initiatives: Some regional governmental bodies (e.g., the European Union) are increasingly promoting “no-deforestation” in agricultural and forestry value chains. For example, the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and Action to Protect the World’s Forests are regional level initiatives that seek to exclude illegally produced commodities or commodities contributing to deforestation from the EU market.
  4. National Government initiatives: Several governments are also adopting policies that requires commodity importers and producers to ensure that their business activities do not contribute to deforestation and forest degradation. Examples include the Dutch Task Force on Sustainable Soy and Palm Oil and the Belgian Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil
  5. Voluntary, market-based, certification schemes: Individual producers and buyers have long used market-based third-party certification schemes to demonstrate that their activities are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. Most of the global certification schemes (e.g., The Forest Stewardship Council, The Rainforest Alliance Certification, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) have policies and requirements that are fundamental to eliminating deforestation.

2) What are the major “no-deforestation” requirements?

The different initiatives above have quite different scope and approaches. Notwithstanding this, most no-deforestation initiatives, particularly those using voluntary processes (which are also the most advanced initiatives) generally converge on few requirements. These requirements are illustrated in Figure 1 and explained below.

Figure 1: Acceptable and unacceptable forest conversion under “no-deforestation” requirements
  1. Do not convert protected forests: Conversion of all forest types on protected or conservation land (i.e., illegal deforestation, see Part II) is unacceptable and strongly prohibited (Fig.1a-b). This implies that illegal farms within protected conservation areas will not meet “no-deforestation” regulations! The only option available to producers in this category is to halt further farm expansion and exit such areas. However, this is often easier said than done. In spite of this, some categories of producers on protected lands may be able to meet “no-deforestation” regulations. For instance, farms on “admitted lands” (i.e., lands within conservation estates that were alienated as non-conservation areas) within conservation areas may be able to meet “no-deforestation” regulations if their activities are consistent with the legal framework for such alienated lands.
  2. Do not convert primary forest: Irrespective of whether within or outside protected area, the conversion of primary forest to other land use is inherently undesirable (Fig.1c). Primary forests are generally rare and declining in area in many tropical regions. They often host the highest species riches and conservation values. Thus, most initiatives are against the conversion of primary forest and producers who do so are likely to have difficulties meeting “no-deforestation” requirements.
  3. Convert secondary forest with care: Secondary forest, degraded forest, and plantation forest on non-protected lands can be converted to agricultural lands if the relevant legal frameworks permit (Fig.1e-f). Even then, the producer has to ensure that no “high conservation value (HCV)” exist in such forest. Where HCVs are identified, relevant management prescriptions need to be defined and implemented to enhance and protect these values.
  4. Maintain protected lands: Generally, re-designating a protected conservation area into unprotected lands (Fig. 1g) is considered unacceptable, even if this is permitted by the local legal framework. However, the reverse (i.e., ascribing protective status to an unprotected lands) is generally encouraged, particularly in the era of global climate change and biodiversity loss.  

Beyond these regulations, producers are generally required to implement a number of activities to ensure the sustainability of their operations and reduce pressure on non-agricultural lands. These include practices that:

  • maintains and restore healthy soils such as conservation agriculture, increased tree cover, cover cropping and integrated soil management.
  • ensures efficient use of water and energy.
  • reduces pest and disease burden such as integrated pest, disease and weed management.
  • reduces waste and post-harvest loses.
  • increases biodiversity on farms such as restoring sensitive areas (e.g., stream and river buffers) and reducing use of harmful chemicals.

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