Forest Conservation and Rural Livelihoods: Ideas and Evidence from the Brazilian Amazon

During a brown bag lecture, CU Environmental Studies Professor and LEEP Fellow Peter Newton discussed his research on conservation and sustainable development in the Brazilian Amazon. Despite commitments across key stakeholders including state government, the private sector, civil society and local communities to achieve zero deforestation, there remain substantial questions regarding how to best achieve this goal. Many current strategies offer opportunities, but also suffer from significant challenges. Professor Newton’s research explores these trade-offs.

Professor Newton discussed emerging literature that suggests that zero-deforestation commitments, such as the Cattle Agreement (in which meatpacking companies agreed to only purchase from farms that have zero deforestation), have achieved some success. But, preliminary evidence suggests the cattle agreement’s progress is limited to the properties supplying the slaughterhouses which have signed the agreement and fails to capture the majority of the beef supply chain. Challenges such as leakage, traceability, and smallholder inclusion limit the effectiveness of zero deforestation commitments by companies. Additionally, there is very little available research on the social impacts of these programs; impacts that are often hidden because they are difficult to monitor.

Another prominent strategy is certification programs, which have successfully reduced deforestation in coffee production, but it is uncertain whether this strategy can be effectively replicated in other sectors. Differences in the structure of the beef industry (which is a main driver of deforestation in Brazil) for may render certification approaches difficult to achieve at scale. For example, a much higher percentage of cattle produced in Brazil is consumed in domestic markets as compared to coffee – limiting the impact of affluent purchasers who can afford to pay a premium for certified goods.

Professor Newton’s current research focuses on a third strategy for preserving forests – adoption of state-wide low emission development pathways. Under this approach, the government encourages low emissions development by investing in industries that do not depend on deforestation, such as aquaculture. The primary research question is whether such interventions in the Brazilian state of Acre have actually reduced deforestation while improving rural livelihoods at the property level.

Find Professor Newton’s slide presentation here.