Our decisions, as consumers, can generate impacts in very distant places – interview with Dr. Neus Escobar

CLEVER researcher Dr. Neus Escobar, from BC3, recently won the Audience Award at the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Conference, held in conjunction with the Spanish Presidency of the EU on 14-15 November 2023 in Toledo (Spain). She was among the 15 finalists selected from 170 MSCA projects to introduce her research and showcase the diversity of academic careers.

Neus presented her pitch ‘Tracking Chocolate to Fight Deforestation’ in the category ‘Exposure to Policy Making’. This topic summarized research insights from the MSCA-IF GIFTS (Global Interlinkages in Food Trade Systems) project. GIFTS is hosted by the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), which is also a partner in CLEVER, contributing to the development of indicators for biodiversity footprints and sustainability trade-off analysis.

What is the focus of your research in the GIFTS project? And what is the project about in general?

GIFTS is focused on the development of a global database that tracks supply chains of agri-food products across years, from the producing country to the country where consumption takes place, by distinguishing between food, feed, and non-food uses. The database is called Agro-SCAN and is entirely based on FAOSTAT data and includes 640 products, more than any similar database, and 181 countries. The objective of GIFTS is specifically to improve and expand Agro-SCAN in collaboration with FAO for estimating environmental footprints of food consumption. Ultimately, GIFTS aims to inform consumers’ decisions towards more resilient and sustainable agri-food systems in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

What did you find so interesting about researching chocolate?

What makes chocolate an interesting case study is that many countries that are major chocolate producers do not produce cocoa beans. In fact, all cocoa bean production is concentrated in the tropics. This highlights the importance of international trade in securing global chocolate production, resulting in complex and interconnected supply chains. At the same time, this translates into large cocoa bean areas being virtually exported, for example, almost 90% of the total area harvested in 2020. The largest land footprints per capita are found in high-income countries such as Switzerland, Germany, United Kingdom, or Canada.

Why is it important to be aware of the environmental impacts of the products we use?

Our results show that global agri-food markets are strongly interconnected and that our decisions, as consumers, can generate impacts in very distant places, such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, environmental pollution, or loss of rural livelihoods. The database at the core of GIFTS helps increase transparency in global supply chains, meaning food and feed consumers can know the origin of the raw materials used, the countries involved and the impacts generated. This information is valuable to understand the intensity of the impact of our consumption and the benefits of alternative options.

What is the relationship between GIFTS and CLEVER?

GIFTS and CLEVER are very related and in continuous exchange, as both share BC3 researchers, tackle similar topics (trade mediated-impacts and sustainability analysis), and even started in the same date. Both GIFTS and CLEVER aim to provide quantitative evidence for informing policymaking towards cleaner and transparent supply chains. After GIFTS, I will join CLEVER for the completion of the analyzes on the impacts and trade-offs from several policy strategies aimed at preventing biodiversity loss.

How can your research in GIFTS help the CLEVER project?

GIFTS can complement supply chain analyzes for CLEVER in WP6 (Representing ecological footprints and policy-trade-biodiversity linkages in global modelling), as the database being developed includes quantities of products and co-products traded across supply chains, from producing countries to final demand. This can provide a global picture about the origin of the raw materials used for the supply chains of interest in CLEVER. This is also helpful to identify the stakeholders involved in production and trade of CLEVER commodities, and the subsequent impacts of biodiversity loss. At the same time, the indicators generated by CLEVER can ultimately be implemented in the Agro-SCAN database to measure biodiversity loss footprints of food, feed and non-food consumption, which includes industrial uses of biomass.

Interview by Rosa Castañeda from EFI.

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.

Toward compliance with the EU Deforestation Regulation: Criteria, Tools, and Open Questions

The past decades have seen a global increase in the production and trade in agricultural and forest-based commodities linked to deforestation and other socio-environmental risks. Different forms of governance have emerged to attempt regulation of these commodity supply chains to halt deforestation and ensure sustainable land-use change. In June 2023, the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) was adopted, requiring EU companies to ensure that certain products imported to the EU are not associated with deforestation. The EUDR aims to minimize the EU’s contribution to deforestation and forest degradation worldwide. As such, it is intended to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss as stipulated in the European Green Deal. As the EUDR enters into force, many questions arise as to how the value chains of major globally traded commodities can become compliant.

With this in mind, the CLEVER and RAINFOREST partner Bonn.Realis organized a workshop called “Toward compliance with the EU Deforestation Regulation: Criteria, Tools, and Open Questions” on November 13, 2023, joining participants both online and in person, at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn. More than 60 stakeholders joined, mainly from Germany, Brazil, but also other international actors, representing all sectors – public authorities, private companies, certifiers, NGOs, company associations, and research organizations. The workshop aimed at providing a space for discussion and exchange, identifying knowledge and capacity gaps to comply with the EUDR as well as opportunities for future collaboration toward improving supply chain sustainability. The workshop focused on Brazil as a key supplier to the EU and three specific commodities covered by the EUDR (i.e. beef, soy, and wood).

Under Chatham House Rules, participants discussed two fundamental questions:

  1. What challenges must be overcome in the three value chains in order to achieve compliance with the EUDR and related due diligence policies?
  2. Which tools and support mechanisms are in place or being developed to overcome these challenges, especially as regards IT solutions, certification schemes, and the mutual recognition of administrative and control systems?

The workshop provided a solid overview of what operators in both regions as well as competent enforcement authorities in the EU can build on in terms of traceability systems and tools for compliance. We also gathered valuable information on areas where stakeholders require further clarification and guidance to align effectively with the new regulatory conditions. Questions around traceability, risk assessment and mitigating measures, supply chain segregation, and transaction costs dominated the debates in separate breakout groups for the three commodities. Considerable uncertainty exists as to the quality standards that competent national authorities and third parties may apply to evaluate future due diligence efforts of operators. There was also an emphasis on a pre-competitive collaboration among operators and service providers in order to generate accessible traceability solutions for all actors of the supply chain.

In sum, we have learned a lot about the challenges that key stakeholders involved in the implementation of the EUDR still need to overcome until its rules will apply from 30th of December 2024. A summary paper synthesizing the workshop’s main results will be prepared and some authorities have already signaled interest in feeding these results into ongoing consultations. Beyond contributing to the implementation process, these results will also feed into CLEVER’s research on policy analysis (WP4, 5) and stakeholder engagement (WP8).  

Written by Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert (UFR) and Jan Börner (UBO).

Photo by Rafaella Ferraz Ziegert (UFR).

Efforts to fight global deforestation need trust-building dialogue

CLEVER representatives met with policy makers, civil society and other academia stakeholders on 13th of June in Berlin to discuss the new rules on sustainability of international agricultural value chains. The focus was at the EU’s landmark decision on its deforestation regulation in December 2022, and the impacts in Brazil. This regulation intends to increase the consumption of ‘deforestation-free’ products, by prohibiting specified commodities and products from being imported into the EU. If in one hand, the regulation comes with a good intention and in a proper political momentum for Brazil, on the other hand, such a unilateral measure can promote a “diversion trade”, which means, Brazil can shift their exports to a less demanding trading partner with lower incurred costs. Other points raised at the meeting were the lack of scientific evidence on the effectiveness of this type of policy, and the challenge of tracing the product from the plot of land to the EU.

Among the solutions, one word was often repeated and took centre stage: “partnerships”. Partnerships to develop traceability tools, platforms, and to increase the interoperability between traders. Overall, partnerships to support exporter governments to improve their own efforts to conserve the forest. One thing is clear: without this joint effort, the final goal of decreasing deforestation cannot be achieved. That is why, while the new EU regulation is not into force, all relevant stakeholders are increasing the dialogue to prepare the ground to conduct strict due diligence. In this setting, CLEVER project results will be key to provide to those stakeholders evidence-based information on potential impacts of this new regulation in both sides of this trade coalition.

The event was hosted by SWP, organized by APD Brasil, and supported by the GFA Consulting Group, IAK Agrar Consulting, GIZ, and BMEL.

Photo by Fernanda Martinelli

Written by Fernanda Martinelli – University of Bonn

Featured image by Adobe Stock/FootageLab