Read the original article in French here.

The forest fires that have been consuming the Amazon rainforest for several years are particularly intense. Beyond climate change, which tends to make tropical forests more vulnerable, most of these fires constitute a direct consequence of agricultural expansion and slash-and-burn techniques.

Every year, millions of acres of land and forests disappear as they get converted into farming lands, or due to timber harvesting. In August 2019, the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, voted on an emergency financial aid of 20 million USD to encourage reforestation, yet this response overlooks one of the key reason of deforestation, namely the production of raw materials directed towards international markets. This factor alone largely contributes to forest cover loss and natural ecosystems conversion in producing countries, which, for the most part, are also developing countries.

In November 2018, the French government implemented a national strategy to fight against this “imported deforestation,” under the name of Stratégie Nationale de Lutte contre la Déforestation Importée (SNDI). This type of deforestation corresponds to all imports of raw materials or processed goods which production contributed, directly or indirectly, to deforestation, forests degradation or natural ecosystems conversion, outside of the national territory. But does the SNDI mobilize the adequate means to fulfil its aims?

Palm oil, cocoa, wood, coffee, soy
French people consume several goods which play a part in deforestation, such as palm oil (from biscuits and spreads) in Malaysia and cocoa beans in Africa. Unfortunately, these products are far from being the only ones responsible for it. Imports and use of other raw materials and resources are just as problematic: wood, coffee, rubber, beef meat, soy, or paper pulp.

As far as soy is concerned, it is mainly used for animal feed in France – it is found in the supply chains of meat, eggs and dairy productions. More than 80% of the soy used in France is imported, and about 50% of French imports come from Brazil, where this crop represents a major cause of forests destruction.

Zero deforestation
The SNDI aims to put an end to “imported deforestation” by 2030. This commitment – among the first in the world – followed the 2015 Amsterdam Declaration and the 2014 New York Declaration. It focuses on the main problematic goods and materials.

To reach the zero deforestation target it pursues, France wants to launch the dialogue with consuming countries (importers) and producing countries (exporters). Its objective is to align its development aid policy and its public policies with the SNDI goals.

A policy of public purchases “zero deforestation” should be implemented by 2022. On the other hand, private sector must contribute through its Corporate Social Responsibility policies. An open platform connecting private and public actors is under development. It will share data on industrial sourcing and risky practices from the private sector.

Reducing dependence
Decreasing meat consumption would alleviate the pressure on lands. Using fodders or other locally produced legumes could also reduce the reliance on soy imports, while offering climate benefits and lowering the risks of international prices of inputs fluctuations – notwithstanding the potential increase of procurement risk, as hay production depends on meteorological contingencies. These changes in consumption mode would occur through price incentives, based on a mechanism similar to the polluter-pays principle.

A label should be created to orientate consumers’ preferences towards foods and products that have a lower impact on deforestation. This relies on consumers’ acceptance of an increase in prices to avoid the products that contributed to deforestation. In a price incentive scenario, consumers would pay more for products that generate deforestation. In fairness to all consumers, it is central to ease access to quality animal proteins of relative low costs.

Tackling fires and deforestation without targeting consumption modes is difficult. Wealthy states show a more substantial meat-based diet and a greater historical responsibility than emerging countries in environmental degradation dynamics. They should therefore play a central role in transforming consumption modes.