New methodology for modeling biodiversity developed at UFMG points to new paths for conservation

CLEVER researchers of Centre for Remote Sensing of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) have developed an innovative approach for modeling biodiversity with great implications to biodiversity conservation studies. Led by Ubirajara Oliveira, the study proposes a new methodology that overcomes the challenges posed by the lack of knowledge about biodiversity in remote areas.

Figure 1 – The lack of knowledge in remote areas poses a challenge for biodiversity modeling and conservation

The article entitled “Controlling the Effects of Sampling Bias in Biodiversity Models“, published in the Journal of Biogeography, addresses how sampling biases, or the fact that some regions are better at sampling than others, affect our ability to understand biodiversity patterns. These biases often affect biodiversity estimates, mainly because more accessible regions tend to be more studied. These errors may impact the capacity to identify critical areas for preservation of a diversity of species.

To address this issue, the team developed simulations of virtual species distributions, in which collection biases and the expected results of the modeling were previously fully known. This process allowed the researchers not only to isolate uncontrolled factors present in real data, but also to evaluate the modeling methods under thousands of different species distribution contexts.

Figure 2 – USSE provides more accurate and consistent biodiversity predictions, mitigating impacts of the sampling bias and gaps.

The results indicated that the most used techniques for mapping biodiversity, such as species distribution models and spatial interpolation, often fail to capture the real biological diversity. Then, the team of researchers proposed a new methodology called Uniform Sampling from Sampling Effort, or USSE, which proved to be effective in mitigating the effects of sampling bias. USSE provided more accurate and consistent biodiversity predictions, resulting in a powerful tool for planning and conservation actions.

Figure 3 – Frontier between crop lands and the Amazon Forest in Mato Grosso – Brazil.

In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, many regions remain unknown in terms of biodiversity and deforestation caused by the expansion of agricultural crops and pastures, which puts at risk unknown numbers of species. The ability to propose effective conservation strategies and public policies for these regions, among different factors, also depends on being able to predict accurately the biodiversity distribution to identify the critical areas for preservation.

Written by Ubirajara Oliveira, Britaldo Soares-Filho and Felipe Nunes of the Centre for Remote Sensing of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

Concerns on the EUDR implementation increases as the deadline inches closer

The new EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) has been pointed out as an important turning point in the global fight against deforestation. Set to take effect on December 30, 2024, this regulation holds significant implications for countries like Brazil, a major exporter of soybean and beef to EU. With the deadline approaching, producers are concerned about their ability to comply to the policy criteria in time. Yet, it is not just about wanting to or having the right technology; there are several uncertainties about which information will be necessary for operators to prove due diligence.

Brazilian stakeholders recently highlighted four major challenges to the effective implementation of the EUDR for soybean and beef supply chains in the country:

1. Legal complianceand documentation: Upstream business actors in producer countries are currently facing the challenge of furnishing the requisite information and documentation to access EU markets. For the actors involved, it is not clear what kind of documentation and proofs will be accepted by national authorities while verifying the links between products and their declared locations of origin. For instance, what level of risk in the supply chain will be considered acceptable for compliance, and what documents can be used as evidence of compliance with the legislation?

2. Data protection: The EUDR requires that traders and operators report the geographic coordinates of the plots of land where commodities were produced, ensuring they are deforestation-free and not associated with illegal practices. As this implies an increased use of monitoring and verification technologies, concerns exist about how to make information across the supply chain transparent while at the same time anonymising it to ensure data security.

3. Role of national platforms: In cases when national databases and platforms providing information relevant to the legislation already exist, would those be recognized as valid sources of evidence for legality? Example of platforms for the Brazilian case are the AgroBrasil+Sustentável and Selo Verde.

4. Potential rehabilitation: Traders and operators who fail to comply with the legislation – for instance, by selling products from non-compliant regions or producers – might be temporarily prohibited from commercialising their products in the EU. However, it is not clear if there are provisions for rehabilitating producers or regions initially excluded from compliance.

The identification of these four major challenges was the result of a collaborative gathering organized by CLEVER researchers from the University of Bonn, alongside the Agricultural Policy Dialogue Brazil-Germany (APD Brasil Alemanha) and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. Bringing together voices from Brazil’s government, private sector, NGOs, and academia, the discussions revolved around the upcoming EUDR implementation. Split into two teams (soybean and beef), participants discussed topics like traceability progress, ongoing hurdles, associated costs, mitigation plans, transition phases, and ensuring that smallholders aren’t left behind due to traceability requirements. Following this participatory approach to pinpoint challenges and solutions, the outcomes were shared at the ‘European Deforestation Regulation (EUDR): Challenges and Traceability Solutions’ Round Table with the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Brasília, Brazil, in February 2024.

Fernanda Martinelli (University of Bonn). Photo credit: Tim Bartram.
European Deforestation Regulation (EUDR)
Challenges and Traceability Solutions. Photo credit: Carlos Alberto dos Santos
CLEVER Project Coordinator Jan Börner (University of Bonn). Photo credit: Carlos Alberto dos Santos
European Deforestation Regulation (EUDR)
Challenges and Traceability Solutions. Photo credit: Carlos Alberto dos Santos.
European Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) Challenges and Traceability Solutions. Photo credit: Carlos Alberto dos Santos.

Written by Fernanda Martinelli / University of Bonn.

Reflections on International Day of Forests

On 21st of March we celebrate the International Day of Forests and the theme for this year is Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World. To acknowledge the importance of technological advancements in forest monitoring, the CLEVER team shared their reflections on how innovative technologies, such as remote sensing and satellite imagery, support scientific research and policy making.

Images by Adobe Stock.

New EU commodity trade rules and related challenges for the timber sector – Views from Cameroon 

Imagine you were a vendor selling products on the market. One day, some of your known, old buyers would start demanding assurances that your products fulfil certain requirements; or else, they can no longer buy from you. How would you react? Would you seek to fulfil the new, additional requirements or simply sell your products to other buyers, who demand less? Moreover, how might other concerned actors perceive this situation, such as the government, who regulates the marketplace? 

Together with Dr. Shidiki Abubakar Ali and Herman Zanguim from the University of Dschang, I was part of a research team set out to explore these and related questions in the context of the Cameroon-EU timber trade as part of the CLEVER project. In 2023, the EU adopted new market requirements in the Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) for timber and some other commodities and derived products. For timber, the new requirements expand on rules that have been so far in place as part of the EU Timber Regulation. According to the new rules, timber products can be imported to (or exported from) the EU market only if they are legally produced and free of deforestation and forest degradation. With our team, we discussed emerging challenges and how to address them in Cameroon – a country producing and exporting tropical timber – with actors from State institutions, timber businesses, certification bodies, NGOs and the civil society, international organizations, and research and training institutions. 

A production forest in Cameroon. Photo by Herman Zanguim (UDS)

We found out that awareness of the EUDR is high but knowledge of its details on average is still low among the actors. The EUDR can be seen as complex as it contains a lot of details and technicalities, such as definitions of concepts like deforestation or forest degradation. An issue raised by many was that the EU has poorly communicated about the EUDR and what it might imply for a country like Cameroon. This may, in turn, have led to current lower levels of understanding of the EUDR and even misunderstandings of it, such as that the EU would be encroaching on other countries’ sovereignty with it. 

Different stakeholders in Cameroon also found that the EU had insufficiently involved actors in countries outside of the EU in the development of the EUDR, calling for a more participatory approach. Another point made by many was that the EUDR is perceived as overly restrictive and punitive for countries such as Cameroon that still have large areas of forests standing. Actors said that to achieve meaningful impacts, regulations like the EUDR should be more supportive and incentivizing for better governance in the countries where commodities are produced. According to them, a restrictive and punitive approach that they see with the EUDR is doomed to fail in its implementation due to lack of enabling conditions and support in countries of commodity production.

Logs stored at a sawmill in Cameroon. Photo by Mathias Cramm (EFI)

Timber businesses, on the other hand, did not appear too fussed about the EUDR. They believe themselves to be well prepared for its application, also because of existing EU regulations like the EU Timber Regulation. And what if their products were no longer accepted “as is” in the EU market? Their response was: Demand is high in Asian markets and buyers from African markets are also increasingly knocking on their door. Thus, there might be no shortage of alternative buyers for their timber products. 

It remains to be seen what the real impacts of the EUDR on countries like Cameroon, their timber industry, and their forests will be, after its application begins in 2024-2025. What will happen to the Cameroon-EU timber trade? How will Asian businesses, who import Cameroonian timber and re-export it to the EU, react? Will implementation and enforcement of the EUDR in the EU be possible and effective? Only time will tell, and we’ll hopefully follow the process from the researchers’ point of view. 

Written by Mathias Cramm from the European Forest Institute.