• Food and agriculture are a key driver of deforestation, which in turn has been a major cause of climate change.
  • Reversing deforestation will involve a genuine partnership between producer and consumer countries.
  • Key tools to make progress on this issue include due diligence to ensure sustainable practices in supply chains, and producer partnership agreements.

Globally, the annual consumption of food and agriculture products rose by an astonishing 48 percent between 2001 and 2018, growing at more than twice the rate of the increase in human population. This has been the biggest driver of deforestation, which in turn has been a major cause of climate change. At its simplest, if we fail to solve deforestation, we will fail to limit climate change – a point that will be central to the COP26 discussions in Glasgow.

While many multinational companies with global supply chains have been working hard to make significant improvements, the scale of the challenge means that no single sector can resolve deforestation on its own.

Leadership by UK government and FACT dialogue

It is now time for concerted and focused action to link producer and consumer countries. The United Kingdom, as part of its presidency for the UNFCCC COP26, created the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue. FACT seeks to reverse deforestation and accelerate the transition towards more sustainable land-use practices, specifically through dialogue between the global north and south, between the public and private sector.

Consumer countries can play a crucial role as they are the major markets for so many products associated with deforestation. The US, EU and UK are all advancing legislation that will require companies to conduct due diligence for importing agricultural products into their markets. As with the legislation on timber legality, due diligence can be a really valuable tool. Even China, now the world's largest importer of timber, has these requirements in its new Forest Law, and many hope that it will move in the same direction for agricultural commodities.

Avoiding a 'top-down' approach

Partnership with producer countries needs to be at the core of any attempt to reverse deforestation. This must be a just transition for farmers and foresters, which aims to develop a different local rural economy. This is not compatible with a 'top-down' approach. The effectiveness of due diligence will be limited if it is not accompanied by incentives that foster action on the ground to address the root causes of deforestation in producer countries.

Producer partnerships are agreements between consumer and producer countries, which can include governments, private sector players and other stakeholders. For example, the European Community and the Republic of Ghana signed a producer partnership agreement on forest law enforcement, governance and trade in timber products. Such agreements can encourage sustainable practices across commodity supply chains, and help to ensure decent livelihoods for producers. Trade and green finance can become strong drivers of positive change.

Agriculture is an important driver of exports and employment in many tropical forest countries, thanks to rising prices and a shift in production. For example, agriculture represents 30 percent of total employment in Indonesia, 11 percent in Malaysia and 9 percent in Brazil – all far higher than the 5 percent average across OECD economies.

Genuine partnership must drive change

Producer partnerships should include governments, industry, farmers, communities and broader civil society. We will only find solutions if we put people at the centre of these proposals. If the smallest producers are excluded, the market will become even more segmented and the poorest will be discriminated against. This will be catastrophic not only for those producers, but also in the fight against climate change.

Due diligence should be about the north supporting the south, which means that solutions are not dictated, but worked towards together in a spirit of open cooperation and partnership. It is encouraging to see that the EU and UK are developing this type of legislation; it is important to ensure that partnership is built in from the start.