You are here

Land -- where food, energy and environmental security collide

More than 50% of the 1998-2008 deforestation was due to agricultural expansion...40% of US corn went to ethanol last year...50% of Argentina's agricultural land is used to grow soy...Deforestation threatens the ability of forests to store about 40 years' worth of fossil fuel emissions. The numbers are dizzying but the trends are clear: the planet is heading toward a major collision of interests as growing food, energy and climate security needs exert mounting pressure on land and water resources, while displacing local farmers and forest-dwellers.

PROFOR hosted a lunch-time seminar at the World Bank in Washington DC on July 2, 2012 looking at the nexus of land grabs and the agricultural commodity and forest products trade. The speakers were Michael Jenkins and Kerstin Canby from Forest Trends, Duncan Brack from Chatham House UK, and Justin Adams, formerly head of BP's Emerging Business and Ventures unit. Together with a large group of World Bank participants, they discussed some of the possible tools that could help address increasingly interrelated issues.

  • Favoring zero-deforestation commodities--A decade of voluntary certification standards and more recent US, European and Australian consumer-country timber legislation are beginning to have an impact on illegal logging and international timber trade by requiring timber imports to carry some kind of proof of legality (for example a FLEG-T license) and in some cases proof of sustainability (such as FSC or PEFC certification). Could the same approach successfully deal with "conversion timber" -- wood that is not technically illegal but that comes from high conservation forests that are cleared for agriculture, often in violation of local usages and rights? Globally, soy, maize, palm oil, rice and sugar are the top commodities responsible for deforestation (more than illegal logging). Emerging voluntary sustainability and Fairtrade standards for certain commodities (palm, soy, beef) are a promising trend toward cleaning up the global agricultural supply chain. But will they be enough to encourage mass markets to switch to "zero-deforestation" products? Would legislation help?
  • Business innovation--The buzz at the Rio+20 conference in June was all about the wonderful progress made by the private sector in taking the imperative of sustainability to heart (while multilateral political processes appeared to stall). This goes beyond traditional Corporate Social Responsibility: companies are reportedly thinking ahead about the security of their supply chains and looking for solutions that preserve their core businesses. According to Justin Adams, big corporations may have the resources but often lack the nimbleness and entrepreneurship required to invent "Sustainability 2.0." Speakers called for new partnerships, between academics, social entrepreneurs, public agencies and big corporations, to share key data, invent new business models that would include smallholders and reward more diverse and efficient land uses, and ultimately help shape more sustainable integrated landscapes.

The speakers' presentations are attached below. In addition, we filmed a short post-seminar Q&A with Justin Adams.

Feel free to comment and send suggestions on how to resolve the pressing land use issues of the day.

Related Links: