During the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, many businesses pledged to halve deforestation by 2020. While global deforestation numbers have increased in recent years, many companies are accelerating action with the deadline in sight.
In fact, we are seeing the world’s largest corporations invest heavily in climate solutions. Just a few weeks ago, BlackRock – the world’s largest investment company managing about $7 trillion – announced that environmental sustainability is now core to its business. In a letter, its CEO said that BlackRock would remove itself from “high sustainability-related risk” investments. Additionally, about 18 billion is expected to be spent “on climate change mitigation” by 285 multinationals ranging from food giants Nestle to automotive companies like Tesla.
But what does such a “fundamental reshaping” of the business world look like? What are the solutions to complex issues like agriculture-driven deforestation, which is inextricably linked to problems like poverty and development? While the path isn’t set in stone, we believe the answers lie in small steps – with the potential to scale – made with suppliers, communities, NGOs and governments to preserve key biomes across the world. Here are some landscapes we've been taking these steps in and would like to continue to regenerate.
Regenerating the Cavally Forest in Ivory Coast
The Cavally Forest Reserve is one of the last intact forest reserves in Ivory Coast, the world’s top producer of cocoa. Most of this cocoa is grown by small farmers, and Ivory Coast has lost a significant amount of forests trying to meet global chocolate demand. In 1960, there were about 12 million hectares of forests in the country. Today, close to 75 percent of that has been cleared, according to the World Bank.
Even though their country forms the backbone of the $100 billion global chocolate industry, farmers in Ivory Coast remain poorly paid for their cocoa. This makes it increasingly likely that they clear more land to keep up with ever-increasing demand for chocolate. In the Cavally Forest, neighbouring communities inadvertently plant cocoa under the forest canopy within the reserve. The challenge for the SODEFOR, the state forest management agency, was how to detect cocoa planted under the canopy in a timely manner.
Using Starling’s high resolution satellite and radar images, and regular forest clearance alerts, SODEFOR was able to target their patrolling efforts across the 67,600-hectare forest reserve. This led to an 83 percent decrease in deforestation between the second quarter of 2018 and the second quarter of 2019. We are now working on a way to reforest degraded land within the reserve and grow trees along the border to establish clear boundaries between forests and farms.
While field visits show that former plantations are now being replaced by the forest, any long-lasting solution needs to include the local communities. This is why we are going to help the surrounding communities map their lands, and study alternative sources of income to reduce the pressure to clear forests and help those who have lost their crops.
Watch our video, The Cocoa Beneath, to find out more about how technology is playing a vital role in protecting the Cavally Forest.
Impacting the Amazon and other key landscapes in Peru
Tocache is a key agricultural region in Peru, with smallholders growing most of the oil palm and cacao found here. About 1,200 oil palm farmers and 25,000 cacao farmers dot the region, which lost about 20,000 hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2018, according to Global Forest Watch.
Tocache is close to three critically important conservation areas. Surrounding it is the Cordillera Azul National Park – home to more than 7,000 plant and animal species, and Rio Abiseo National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site and the only place where the yellow-tailed woolly monkey is found. Tocache also borders the Boshumi Regional Conservation Area, which provides water to more than 69,000 people.
Our work in Peru started in 2015, when – with our support – Nestle approached supplier Grupo Palmas with regard to plans to plant oil palm on about 23,000 hectares of primary forest in the Peruvian Amazon. While Grupo Palmas stopped their plans and adopted an NDPE (No Deforestation, Peat and Exploitation) commitment, it led to the realisation that the only way to make up their production loss was to involve smallholders. This realisation led us to Tocache.
In Tocache, we piloted an indicative HCS Approach study at the landscape level; which was one of the first times this approach was used across a smallholder-dominated landscape. The study identified about 62,000 hectares of potential conservation areas. We have also begun working on improving oil palm smallholders’ livelihoods and have struck an agreement to integrate conservation areas we’ve identified into the government’s plans.
Future plans include forming a coalition of civil society, government and business actors to create sustainable land-use plans in Tocache. We are also looking into compensating farmers to conserve forests on their lands and expanding scope of our work to other areas.
Watch this video to learn about the work that first brought us to Peru, which impacted thousands of hectares of rain forest in the Peruvian Amazon.
Promoting green development in the Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia
The Leuser Ecosystem is one of the more biodiverse places in the world, spanning more than 2.6 million hectares across the Indonesia provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. It is the only place on Earth where the Sumatran elephant, orang-utan, rhino and tiger are still found together. Peatlands in Leuser act as one of the largest carbon sinks on Earth, thus making it vital to climate change efforts.
Adjacent to Leuser are oil palm plantations, mills and farming communities, who inadvertently put pressure on the surrounding forests. Farmers in neighbouring Aceh Tamiang district are among the poorest in the nation. They face issues with high living costs, low palm oil prices and low yield from their oil palm trees, thereby impacting their income and food security.
Our efforts in Aceh Tamiang have revolved around partnering with the government and aiding their efforts to implement a green development plan. We are also helping nearby farmers improve their livelihoods and training companies on how to adopt responsible business practices.
Data from Starling satellites show that deforestation has decreased about 60 percent between 2016 and 2019. While this is true across lands owned by large plantations, we are still seeing farmers encroaching into the forest to earn a living.
Watch this video to find out how we are piloting a methodology to improve farmer livelihoods and eventually relieve pressure on neighbouring forests.