Tropical forest conservation in the Bolsonaro era
- Connect with Brazil’s medium- and large-scale farmers, don’t vilify them: Small-scale, family farmers have long been on the radar of the forest conservation agenda in Brazil, and that engagement and outreach needs to continue and expand. The forest conservation community and large-scale farmers have become polarized, however, and Bolsonaro appears to have exploited that polarization by speaking to their core issues. The stage is set for escalating antagonism that could further strengthen farm sector support for Bolsonaro. Instead, the forest conservation community should be reaching out to listen and demonstrate solidarity with farmers on issues where common ground is within reach, such as regulatory efficiency, important infrastructure projects, and market access. There are several forums where this outreach is already happening and could be expanded, such as the Mato Grosso Produce, Conserve, Include Strategy.
- Develop positive farm-level incentives for forest conservation: There is an urgent need to build the systems that will deliver positive incentives to farmers for forgoing their legal right to clear forests on their lands. This means implementing Article 41 of the Forest Code, which provides the legal framework for incentivizing on-farm forest conservation. The big low-hanging fruit here is to begin translating the nearly 7 billion tons of verified CO2 emissions reductions that the national and Amazon state governments of Brazil hold and that expands every year into a major flow of benefits to Brazilian society and to farmers in particular. Rapid progress could be made in building emissions reductions into commercial transactions, offering carbon-neutral agricultural commodities to the growing market demand for food GHG labelling, while continuing to seek performance-based investments for the Amazon Fund and additional results-based deals such as those recently completed between Acre and Mato Grosso States with Germany and the UK.
- Modify current “zero deforestation” agreements to value legal compliance: The Brazilian Soy Moratorium and Beef Agreement of the Amazon, and the Cerrado agreement that is under development, should be modified to explicitly exempt farmers who have forests on their land that they can legally clear until mechanisms are created to compensate them for forgoing this right. In the absence of this caveat, farmers are actually being penalized for complying with the law, since their properties are worth less than those that have been cleared beyond the legal mandate. These zero deforestation agreements are reviewed in forthcoming World Bank reports (Nepstad & Shimada, The Brazilian Soy Moratorium; Shimada & Nepstad, The Brazilian Cattle Agreement).
- Companies should establish strategic partnerships with state governments and farm sectors; campaigning NGOs should help: States encompassing the entire Amazon region of Brazil and 1/3 of the tropical forests of the world (members of the Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force) pledged in 2014 to reduce deforestation 80% by 2020 if the right partnerships and finance were in place, through the Rio Branco Declaration. Four years later, only 5 of 35 jurisdictions globally and 2 of 9 Brazilian states in the Legal Amazon have established formal partnerships with companies to achieve this pledge (see our “State of Jurisdictional Sustainability” report). One of the impediments to partnering that companies cite is the risk that they will be attacked by Greenpeace, Mighty Earth and other campaigning NGOs because of the black-listed actors that operate in these jurisdictions. An adjustment to NGO strategies is urgently needed that favors company-jurisdiction partnerships instead of inhibiting them.
- Postpone for six months new initiatives for expanding protected areas or issuing new regulations on farmers: Such initiatives would be lightning rods for Bolsonaro’s rural base, potentially strengthening support for dismantling environmental legislation and protected areas.
- Document and communicate more effectively the benefits of forest conservation: Less deforestation means less air pollution and fewer illnesses and deaths. Crop fields in close proximity to forests experience less severe temperature extremes. More forests regionally means more rainfall, securing long-term energy generation from Amazon hydropower plants.