Skip to main content

Governments play vital role in enabling forest-positive agriculture

Blog | Mon, 01 Nov, 2021 · 11 min read
Phnom Dek, Preah Vihear, Cambodia - Mrs. Tun Kiem works at her 1,5 Ha. intercropping plot which has been assigned to her by the forest community. Mrs. Tun Kien can grow soybeans to sustain her family livelihood either by own consumption or selling the excess crop she harvests.( @ Mr. Enric Català Conteras)

Phnom Dek, Preah Vihear, Cambodia - Mrs. Tun Kiem works at her 1,5 Ha. intercropping plot which has been assigned to her by the forest community. Mrs. Tun Kien can grow soybeans to sustain her family livelihood either by own consumption or selling the excess crop she harvests.

We are facing a quadruple planetary emergency, with interconnected crises of climate change, global health, biodiversity and food security. To meet these pressing global challenges – all of which have consequences for food security – we must transform our global food system. In order to sustainably meet projected food demand by 2050 while avoiding climate catastrophe, the global food system must double food production whilst decreasing agricultural emissions by two-thirds. Policies that reduce land use change and promote forest-positive agriculture are urgently needed to avoid the expansion of crop and pasture into forests and other ecosystems.

Significant progress has been made in slowing the global rate of forest loss, but current deforestation rates of nearly 10 million hectares per year remain alarming. The vast majority of deforestation occurs in tropical and subtropical countries. Overall, more than 70 percent of this forest loss is attributable to agriculture, with commercial agriculture playing a prominent role in both legal and illegal forest conversion.

Halting deforestation has been central to internationally negotiated commitments, frameworks and initiatives, including REDD+, the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), as well as to private sector commitments. While targets for 2020 passed without being met, momentum to tackle deforestation remains high, and the urgency to halt deforestation while contributing to rural livelihoods, food security and sustainable economic development has never been greater.

Opportunities to improve existing efforts, while further mobilizing finance and enhancing coordination across sectors, continue to emerge, fueled by the expertise of various initiatives including the UN-REDD Programme. Governments have a particularly vital role to play in enabling forest-positive commodity value chains. On the consumer side, regulatory frameworks are gaining ground, and on the production side, integrated landscape approaches are being employed to transition to more sustainable agricultural practices.

Countries around the world are expanding their efforts to transform food systems towards more efficient production and reduced environmental impact while halting deforestation. Among these countries are Mexico, Côte d'Ivoire and Brazil, who, in September of this year, shared their experiences and perspectives during a webinar hosted by FAO’s REDD+ team and Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). Together with the United Nations Development Programme and the Food and Land Use Coalition, they explored how government authorities can enable sustainable and legal forest-positive commodity value chains, with a particular focus on integrated landscape approaches. Such approaches are embedded in most national REDD+ strategies and, in turn, in the national climate commitments known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). They aim at increasing agricultural production while protecting forests, restoring degraded lands and ensuring the inclusion of Indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth.

In Mexico, both one of the world’s most populous countries and one of its most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the agriculture and environment sectors have coordinated to develop cross-sectoral policies and laws that reduce the impact of agriculture on forests and promote territorial development in forested areas, including through the National REDD+ Strategy. The national government has supported additional programs and policies, including the Sustainable Forestry Development Law and policies to ensure habitat protection for pollinators, sustainable soil management and the mainstreaming of biodiversity and territorial planning in agricultural activities to ensure the ongoing delivery of ecosystem services.

Territorial planning is also an important tool for sustainable agricultural intensification in Paragominas, a municipality in Pará State, Brazil. Pará State is known for its high deforestation rates, and since 2008, it has implemented strong law enforcement, command-and-control measures and strategic territorial planning. During this time period, forest cover in Paragominas has largely remained stable, while economic growth and social progress have increased. This demonstrates that the dynamics that drive deforestation are highly dependent on local conditions and socio-economic context, and solutions need to be designed at the local level.

The dramatic loss of forest cover in Côte d’Ivoire and continued pressure on its remaining primary forest call for a coordinated, multi-dimensional response. Efforts have been made at both the national and subnational levels to develop strategies for reducing such deforestation and forest degradation, including through the Cavally region's Green Growth Plan and Regional Strategic Plan for Zero Deforestation Agricultural Production, the National REDD+ Strategy (French version here) and the public-private Cocoa and Forests Initiative, a partnership among Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and more than 35 leading chocolate and cocoa companies. In particular, this initiative and the REDD+ Strategy have provided a clear framework, both for strategic planning at the local level and for the development of related multi-stakeholder platforms.

Here are some key lessons learned from these experiences with integrated landscape approaches which may be useful to countries as they pursue national pathways for food systems transformation.

  • There is a role for all actors (governments, private sector, civil society, communities) in halting deforestation in agriculture supply chains; concerted efforts and a multistakeholder approach that reconciles conflicting demands and seeks a common agenda is vital.

  • Policy alignment, cross-sectoral government coordination and collaboration is a key enabling factor and must be institutionalized, including through national budgets.

  • Integrated and use planning, inclusion of farmers, local communities and Indigenous peoples and the security of tenure rights are important enabling conditions for sustainable public and private investment.

  • Sustained technical support and capacity development is crucial to supporting the adoption of forest-positive production models.

  • Shared monitoring and information systems can be useful tools for planning and keeping track of progress made.

  • Finance (including incentives and innovative financing modalities) is necessary to fund food systems transformation.

Looking forward, projections of a continued rise in the demand for agricultural commodities will further increase pressures on tropical forests. As such, the urgency to transform food systems has never been greater. Despite existing challenges, we do see encouraging signs of commitments and concrete progress to address climate change and biodiversity loss while supporting economic recovery in a post-COVID-19 scenario. Halting deforestation associated with agricultural commodities through integrated and concerted actions at landscape, national and global levels is an opportunity that must not be missed.

Watch the FAO-led webinar and explore its related materials to learn more about how governments can support a transition to forest-positive agriculture.