A conversation with Pedro Amaral from Proforest

Pedro Amaral is Deputy Director of Proforest. I talked to him by telephone from Sao Paulo.

Good morning, Pedro. Could you tell me a little about Proforest?

Proforest is a not-for-profit group that works with governments, producers and other private sector partners, as well as civil society organisations and NGOs throughout agricultural and forest product supply chains.

Founded in 2000, we now have around a hundred people in our group. Our headquarters are in Oxford UK, and we also have offices in Colombia, Brazil, Ghana, Malaysia and Indonesia. We are currently opening offices in Mexico and the Netherlands.

Our mission is to help people produce and source natural resources sustainably. We have a focus on agricultural commodities, and we partner with companies in the supply chain – producers, traders, manufacturers, brands, and retailers – to help them come up with commitments around how they produce and source commodities; we then help them to implement these commitments.

We have a charity and we have a consulting arm. Part of our resources come from the companies that we partner with. These are some of the largest brands on the planet: Nestlé, Mars, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Unilever, etc. Part of our resources come from funding agencies such as the UK’s DFID. Whenever we work with grants, we work on specific programmes.

In terms of deforestation, soy and palm must be the biggest culprits…

Cattle raising is by a long way the commodity associated with the largest deforestation areas, and soy comes second. Brazil is where most of the commodity-related deforestation is happening. Some researchers estimate twice as much native forest is associated to cattle raising in Brazil than is to palm production in Indonesia and Malaysia,.

Of course, a lot of the soy and cattle produced is not associated with recent deforestation – we could assume most of it is not. The deforestation cycle is complex and includes drivers such as land speculation, land grabbing or illegal lodging, on top of commodity production – which might end up happening on land cleared initially due to other drivers. Deforestation not only happens for commodity production, but there is a clear link with it, sometimes directly and other times indirectly.

Tell me about the Soy Toolkit.

The Soy Toolkit is part of a broader program called the Good Growth Partnership that addresses beef, palm oil and soy. It is funded by the Global Environment Facility and is developed in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is a demand side toolkit that shows supply chain companies the resources that already exist to address deforestation, native vegetation conversion and human rights issues in the supply chain. Overall, it aims at helping increase the capacity that companies have to implement their commitments, building on existing initiatives.

The Soy Toolkit can help companies understand, for instance, tools that will allow them to show their different stakeholders (customers, for instance) that the soy being traded is deforestation-free. On the other hand, it will also allow them to flag whenever there is a problem, which in turn provides them with the opportunity to take action to resolve it.

What are the resources and initiatives that already exist?

The Amazon Soy Moratorium, as one example, is an agreement signed in 2006 to ensure that soy production in the Amazon region only occurs on existing agricultural land and not through deforestation of native vegetation. It has been successful in helping reduce soy-related deforestation in the Amazon.

Anyone who buys soy from Brazil should check that they are buying from a company that is a signatory to the moratorium: If they are, the buyer should ask for the audit reports to see if they are 100 percent compliant, and if they’re not, to take action on it. If they’re not a signatory, then the buyer should ask them to become a signatory. The moratorium provides a credible and successful framework to demonstrate that, whenever you are trading soy from the Amazon, it is deforestation-free.

The Forest Code obliges a landowner to protect from at least 20 to 80 percent of their land as native vegetation, depending where the property is. Under the farm registry system the government provides on-line access to every single farm boundary, as well as information on protected areas. This provides people with an unprecedented level of transparency with over 5 million properties enrolled – more than 90 percent of all the properties in the country.

If you are a trader, you can ask your supplier for the registry number. You can then use this number on the system to see, for instance, if their registry is active, pending or cancelled. If it’s cancelled, it could be because the farm overlays with protected areas like an indigenous territory.

The Federal Environmental Agency maintains a list of environmental embargoes, some of which are because of illegal deforestation. IBAMA puts in the public domain areas that that have been found to be breaching our environmental laws. If you buy soybeans directly from the farmer, you can cross-check your supplier name with this list.

Another example is the Public Prosecutor’s Office website, which includes lawsuits related to environmental and social issues like land conflicts. It will show you if you’re buying from someone who has a lawsuit outstanding.

There are many other initiatives and resources we feature in the Soy Toolkit. We mapped over 100 of them, including tools that can help you with traceability, continuous improvement programs for farmers, or information on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to policy implementation being reported by supply chain companies.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic for the Amazon jungle in terms of soy and agriculture?

The past two decades have proven that deforestation can be drastically reduced while crop (and meat) production can keep on increasing. Looking back, the combination of market mechanisms, geospatial monitoring, improved law enforcement, partnerships between the private sector and the civil society managed to accomplish great results in the Amazon. I am, therefore, optimistic that there is a successful track record of initiatives that, together, can achieve such great results.

On the other hand, we have seen deforestation rising again in recent years. A recent report shows that in 2019, Brazil accounted for a third of the world’s tropical primary forest loss on the planet. There has been a troubling increase in forest loss in Brazil and some of the hot spots of loss are happening within indigenous territories.  Recent research shows that most of the deforestation was not authorized and could be then deemed illegal.

Looking forward, there is a need to further strengthen law enforcement in Brazil. The market has to step up. Supply chain companies might need to play an even more important role now, by monitoring their supply chains and implementing their responsible sourcing policies.

Companies should work to shed light on what is being produced according to the law, respecting the zero conversion commitments and human rights — and I would expect many, if not most of producers, to be compliant. By scrutinizing their supply chains, they will also shed light on where wrongdoing is happening and will therefore be able to work as a catalyst to promote positive changes on the ground whilst further strengthening their commercial relationships.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I think that the more everyone knows about what’s already available, and what’s been successful already, the more capable they will be to implement their sourcing policies.

Up until April, 2021, we can offer free webinars, workshops and training funded by the Global Environment Facility through WWF to help companies understand what traceability and deforestation analysis tools exist, and how they can benefit from them. It’s all available in English, Portuguese and Mandarin.  People can contact us via the e-mail soytoolkit@proforest.net

We’ve just secured funding to extend our soy toolkit to beef and palm oil – which will allow us to shed light on resources companies can build on to implement their responsible commitments related to these commodities too. It will build on the work we did for the Soy Toolkit and lessons learned from that programme.

Our ultimate goal is to help supply chain companies to implement their commitments. We are not telling companies what to do, but we are rather showing them the tools and resources that they can use in implementing their commitments.

Thank you, Pedro for your time and input!

Pedro will be presenting at the International Grains Council virtual conference on 10th June 2020.

© Commodity Conversations ® 2020

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