K-State Ag Economist Studies Impact of Sustainability Policies on Deforestation

By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension news service


Manhattan, KS– A Kansas State University agricultural economist says a push by some international companies to promote sustainable farming practices in Brazil’s Amazon region is helping to slow down the rate at which climate-friendly forests are cut down.


In a paper published in Nature Communications, Nelson Villoria and colleagues write that efforts to slow down deforestation in Brazil have been successful due to an initiative in which transnational and Brazilian commodity trading companies agreed to stop buying soybeans in the Amazon that were produced in areas cleared after 2006. The agreement is commonly known as the Amazon Soy Moratorium.


“This is a good thing because forests, wherever they are, capture greenhouse gas emissions from global human activity,” said Villoria, an associate professor in K-State’s Department of Agricultural Economics.


“Indeed,” he added, “tree planting and forest conservation are currently the only cost-effective ways of capturing emissions. Deforestation itself is a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, when forests are left alone, we are not increasing emissions while capturing emissions from other sources.”


The Amazon Soy Moratorium required Brazilian farmers to halt deforestation for the purpose of growing soybeans. The result, Villoria said, was that “global soybean production in Brazil went down, world prices increased, and U.S. soybean production increased to satisfy the global demand.”


Villoria said it was also encouraging to find that deforestation to accommodate soybean production was not pushed to other regions – a concept known as leakage that can dilute the global effectiveness of regional efforts at maintaining forestland.


“What we found was that the ASM did cause land conversion in other areas of Brazil, but there was little deforestation outside of Brazil,” Villoria said. “The main reason for this is that all of the supply response was in existing farmland in the United States. In other words, production leaked, but without additional tree cutting.”


“Our study showed that there is scope to further extend zero deforestation policies to other parts of Brazil without increasing deforestation outside of Brazil.”


Villoria said deforestation may decrease in areas such as Brazil if national and transnational trading companies require sustainable farming practices – or governments require companies to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains.


According to Villoria, eliminating deforestation from the supply chains of all firms exporting Brazilian soy to the European Union or China between 2011-2016 could have reduce net global deforestation by 2% — and by 9% in Brazil.


“If major tropical commodity importers require traders to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, it could help to slow the speed at which forests are cleared,” Villoria said.


Currently, the European Union, United States and United Kingdom are considering legislation that would support deforestation-free supply chains.


“Tropical forests are among the most biodiverse environments in the world, so preserving biodiversity is important,” Villoria said. “From a production perspective, forests are also fundamental to regulating the water balance of important breadbaskets of the world. Breaking this balance (through deforestation) will strain global food supply, with the negative effects we see on inflation and food security.”


Villoria’s co-authors on the article in Nature Communications are Rachael Garrett (Environmental Policy Lab in Zurich, Switzerland); Florian Gollnow (Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University); and Kimberly Carlson (Department of Environmental Studies at New York University).


Sign up for the KCLY Digital Newspaper, The Regional