Will other countries follow France’s lead on national anti-deforestation strategy?

André Vasconcelos and Helen Burley

Forests in Brazil are being cleared for soy, photo: Mariano Mantel via flickr.com, creative commons licence

The French government has signalled a major step forward in the transition to deforestation-free supply chains with the announcement of an ambitious new strategy to combat imports that have been linked to deforestation.

The strategy, which was promised in 2017 as part of the country’s Climate Plan under the Paris Agreement, aims to bring an end to deforestation caused by importing unsustainable forest and agricultural products by 2030.

Launched ahead of a meeting of the Amsterdam Declarations signatory group in Brussels this week, the strategy raises the bar for the other six European signatory countries. Through the Amsterdam Declarations, countries commit to support private-sector and public initiatives to eliminate deforestation from key supply chains (including palm oil, soybean, beef, paper, and timber) by 2020.

While raised ambition from the other Amsterdam Declarations signatories would be welcome, the French national strategy also recognises the need for action at the European Union level.

Here we present some insights from Trase data (soon to be released on the trase.earth site) about France’s exposure to deforestation risk through its imports of Brazilian soy.

French imports of Brazilian soy

Brazil is the world’s top soy producer, and also the biggest source of forest-risk soy. France is the seventh largest importer of soy from Brazil, directly importing 1.8 million tons in 2017. However, this figure does not represent all the Brazilian soy consumed in France. Most soy is first imported into Europe via the Netherlands (the fourth-largest importer of Brazilian soy).

Large amounts are also embedded in imported animal and dairy products from livestock fed on Brazilian soy. So France’s actual exposure to the risk of soy-related deforestation in its supply chains is much larger than its direct imports suggest.

Destination markets for Brazilian soy by volume (2017)

France’s exposure to forest risk

Not all of the soy grown in Brazil comes from areas associated with deforestation risk, but soy plantations have been expanding rapidly in recent years into area of native vegetation in the north east of the country — particularly in the Cerrado biome, a woodland and savannah area important for biodiversity.

Within the Cerrado, soy expansion is greatest in an area known as Matopiba — which covers the state of Tocantins and part of Maranhão, Piauí and Bahia. Soy supplies from this region come with the highest deforestation risks, as substantial areas of native vegetation are being cleared to make way for new fields of soy and other crops.

Municipalities in the Cerrado producing soy for the French market (2017)

Nearly 45% of the soy exported from Brazil to France in that year came from the Cerrado biome. Roughly one third of this was from the Matopiba region

This reliance on soy from areas undergoing deforestation means that through its direct imports alone, France was exposed to almost 10% of the total deforestation risk associated with all EU imports of Brazilian soy in 2017*.

Proportion of European exposure to total deforestation and habitat clearance risk (ha) in the previous five years that is associated with soy expansion (currently only available in the Amazon and Cerrado) in 2017.

Which companies are exporting deforestation-risk soy to France?

Trase data show that three key soy traders are clearly responsible for most soy exports to France from the Matopiba region: Bunge, Horita Empreendimentos and Cargill.

Of these three, the soy giant Bunge accounts for more than half. Bunge has a zero-deforestation commitment, and recently updated it to include a commitment to zero legal deforestation. Yet Bunge, like many other companies that have made such commitments, clearly have some way to go in order to deliver.

Addressing the challenge

The new French strategy sets out some crucial steps to address these deforestations risks, encouraging producers, businesses, investors and consumers to change their practices in order to reduce deforestation.

These steps include creating an information platform to facilitate efforts by businesses to improve transparency and traceability in supply chains — a key first step. Trase can help here — both in terms of the method used to identify supply chains, and the data provided. By linking to detailed information on the local origin of key products like soy, beef and palm oil, Trase can provide important information to help identify the risks in supply chains and see where these risks can be addressed.

France plans to use climate and development cooperation to support producer countries — a vital step to help farmers adjust to this changing market place. Beyond that, inspiring other importing countries to take similar action is also recognised as critical.

With its new strategy, France has positioned itself as a leader in working towards deforestation-free supply chains. Now other European countries, and big consumer markets including India and China, must pick up the gauntlet in order to effectively drive change and reduce the risk of deforestation in the goods we all buy.

* For details on how deforestation risks are calculated, see trase.earth