Global demand for beef and soy challenges South American tropical forest conservation

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Cattle ranching is a prime cause of deforestation in South America. Photo courtesy of Jai Mansson/flickr.

MELBOURNE, Australia (8 June, 2011)_Market forces and policies encouraging economic growth are having a increasingly large influence in shaping forest landscape transformation in South America, according to a recent research paper.

In an article published in the January 2011 edition of Forests, Pablo Pacheco, a researcher at CIFOR and his colleagues said agribusiness development brings economic development to forest frontiers, but at the expense of forest conservation.

This introduces challenges when implementing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme, which is designed to incentivise developing countries to sustain their forests.

In the early 2000s, greater integration of South America’s forest landscapes into national and global markets and increased involvement of national and overseas investors prompted the expansion of agriculture and pasture lands with some of that growth taking place to the detriment of forests.

While a prime cause of deforestation has traditionally been cattle ranching, soybean cultivation has also taken place to the expenses of pasture lands and some primary forests.

In the Brazilian Amazon, ranching accounts for about 70% of total forest conversion. More than 70% of rural land of Colombia located in former forestlands is devoted to cattle grazing.  In Bolivia, about 70% of deforestation is caused by large-scale soybean producers and ranchers, as cattle ranching keeps growing to fulfil a steady increase in global demand for beef.

Between 2005 and 2010, 3.5 million hectares of forest a year have been lost in South America.

“Although biofuel feedstock (e.g. soybean bean and oil palm) are placing additional pressures on forest landscapes, mainly in the forest margins, expansion of pastures is still the main cause of deforestation in the region, since it explains more than two-thirds of deforestation in the Amazon region,” the researchers said.

With Brazil being a leading exporter of both beef and soybeans, the expanding beef industry and the agribusiness sector are both key to striking a balance when implementing REDD+ incentives. Yet, several other local actors (e.g. indigenous people, smallholders and extractive communities) are also positing strong claims for accessing the potential economic benefits from forest conservation.

“Ultimately, the success of REDD+ will depend on the ability of recipient countries’ governments to negotiate a fair deal with all land users,” the researchers said.

“It is reasonable to assume that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will not work in REDD+ implementation.

“In some countries, targeting deforestation hotspots at the forest frontier may be feasible only after conflicting land claims have been settled and well delimited.”

The researchers said national strategies have to allow for benefits and costs to be spread amongst all stakeholders from agribusiness to small-scale ranchers, to indigenous populations.

“REDD+ thus goes far beyond the compensation of land users’ opportunity costs in high pressure areas and requires addressing some of the underlying structural reasons for resource overuse and underdevelopment in tropical forest areas.”

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