The Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) was originally created by The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) to support its 2010 Board Resolution to work towards ending deforestation. It has been my great pleasure to lead the TFA for the last three-and-a-half years, and to witness during this time a meaningful shift towards stronger collaboration and collective action by the private sector.
While progress towards that no-deforestation goal had been challenging and slow at times, a big part of my decision to step into the TFA role was to rekindle and strengthen the partnership with CGF. I particularly recall participating in the 2017 strategy effort led by CGF member Mars, Inc., where it was clear that many of the leading consumer goods companies were ready to step up action towards reducing deforestation in their supply chains to create a forest positive future.
Looking back, I believe that businesses have made real progress both individually and collectively. TFA has been proud to be a key partner working hand-in-hand with the CGF and its member companies to drive action and demonstrate corporate ambition. The launch of the Forest Positive Coalition of Action in September 2020 was a crucial foundational step for years of action to come.
The Coalition has created a dedicated space for more than 20 leading manufacturers and retailers who are committed to change to put the principles of collective action into practice. The Coalition’s first annual report, published in September 2021, built on its commitment to put transparency at the heart of the Coalition’s actions and I have seen a shift in the broader community towards continual learning and collective problem-solving. That was followed by the Coalition’s launch of its landscape engagement strategy at COP26 in Glasgow – commencing a transformative initiative that acknowledges the need for businesses to engage beyond their own supply chains into the broader production landscapes on which many of them depend.
However, set against this progress, the rates of deforestation remain sobering. While we have seen declines in some countries this decade – particularly in Indonesia – the rate of deforestation has increased in other countries, particularly in Brazil and across much of Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority (more than 80 percent) of tropical deforestation occurs in landscapes where agriculture is the dominant driver. From 2001 to 2015, the production of just three commodities – cattle, palm oil, and soy – replaced 63.8 million hectares of forest, a land area more than twice the size of Italy. Unless we reverse deforestation and start to build more regenerative food systems, there is no path to keep climate change under 1.5 degrees, nor to address the collapse of biodiversity which imperils life on earth.
One of the great challenges for the food and agriculture sector in the decade ahead will be finding solutions to the challenge of meeting the nutritional needs of a projected 1.8 billion additional people in the middle class, while supporting rural livelihoods and halting deforestation. Corporate leadership will be critical, and, speaking now directly to businesses, there are a few actions I would call out as particularly important:
- Continue to strengthen the engagement with your suppliers and your understanding of some of the challenges they are grappling with. We must provide incentives to producers to ensure that we don’t exclude the most vulnerable communities in our efforts to reduce deforestation.
- Support progressive legislation in demand countries, in particular, the European Union and China, while simultaneously reinforcing the need for partnerships with producer countries. The endorsement of the ‘Smart Mix’ measures and your statement calling on the EU to adopt stronger legislation from many CGF members reflected your strong commitment in this area of action.
- Strengthen your advocacy for stronger forest protection and the rights of the most vulnerable producers and communities in the countries and landscapes on which we all depend for our food security
- Engage other supply chain companies, particularly those in the CGF, to encourage them to step up their own actions. Your leadership alone cannot solve the problem but it can inspire the broader changes that we know are needed from the public and private sector to achieve the 1.5 degrees target.
- Advance the concept of investing in forest positive landscapes with real examples that showcase how different production and protection models are possible .
- Continue to engage collectively and transparently to restore the most precious commodity of all: trust among all stakeholders.
As a technical and strategic partner of the Forest Positive Coalition of Action, the TFA stands ready to continue to support the leadership of the CGF and its members as they tackle the deforestation crisis. It has never been an easy journey, but we all know how high the stakes are. It is time to transform our food systems so that they work better for people and the planet. As I depart my role at TFA for a new position in the investment community, I look forward to continuing to support the transformation towards a forest positive future that our world desperately needs.