Journal Club Review – Deforestation: Policy and Action

Starting this month, we will be posting journal club reviews on this blog. Journal clubs are typically held on the third Wednesday of every month (subject to change) and is an informal discussion on a specific science policy topic lead by different members of CaSP. These reviews will be a summary of the discussions and we hope they will provide you with information on a particular science policy topic even if you were unable to attend the discussion. If you are interested in joining us for journal club, sign up for our mailing list to know when and where the next event will be.

January’s journal club was held on January 17, 2018 and lead by Nathan York (graduate student in Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology, Pattnaik lab). Journal club review was written by Amanda Hurley (Postdoc in Jo Hanelsman’s lab).

A global problem.

The horizon of humanity includes more hungry people with less space to grow food to feed them. Many organizations are worried about this problem as well as the litany of issues inexorably tied to this impending crisis. In CaSP’s January 2018 journal club, the group discussed one of those subjects: deforestation. Specifically, what is the most effective policy a government can enact to prevent deforestation? WITHOUT exacerbating the world’s already growing hunger burden of almost 1 billion people?

Deforestation is driven by demand for space by agriculture or urban expansion, both of which are required to facilitate the needs of an increasing population. In lies the problem, how does a government protect its natural resources while also allowing its citizens to make a living?  The choice for individuals or corporations to clear forests can be based on immediate causes, such as product prices and market demand, or underlying causes from the broader, international community.

Who owns the Amazon? A case study.

While the Amazon Jungle spans nine nations, 60% of the forest is within Brazil’s borders. Fairness aside, Brazil is saddled with enforcing sustainable use and protection of its natural wonder. Through the early 2000s, the government was losing the battle, with as much as 26,000 sq km being destroyed per year with greatest losses due to cattle ranching followed by soybean production. In 2003, a fresh Brazilian administration pushed for more Amazon land protection. A combination of immediate and underlying causes lead to cooperation from the cattle and soybean industries. The underlying national pressure induced local companies, for example slaughterhouses in Brazil and McDonalds, to refuse purchasing products that had been sourced on cleared Amazon land, which effectively removed a strong immediate cause of deforestation: market demand. Importantly, Brazil’s government enforced its land protection by patrolling roads into rainforests and with satellite monitoring.

What’s a government to do about deforestation?

Turning a scientific eye to the problem, CaSP reviewed a 2010 article in PNAS that utilized a complicated equation to explore ways for a nation to essentially either reduce agricultural profit or increase the forest’s value. The article provided economic reasons to decrease deforestation, a welcome and effective argument for governments to use in explanation to its farmers and businesses. The most effective policy for reducing agricultural expansion involved investing in “intensive” agriculture. By subsidizing crops away from the forest or technology to better utilize current farm area would increase production without agricultural expansion. This policy comes with a warning, however. If the policy is not carefully implemented, production could be so profitable that farmers would want to expand into the forest anyway. Such a situation has developed in Indonesia with the production of palm oil.

Dang, I like Kraft Mac N’ Cheese.

Discussion of bolstering intensive agriculture investment and enacting forest protection can leave a room of science grad students and postdocs feeling energized yet helpless. Fortunately, we do have power as consumers. One accessible product to avoid is palm oil. While some bemoaned Kraft’s use of palm oil, I am personally devastated by Starbucks’ involvement. Originally heralded as an alternative to fossil fuels, palm oil producers received substantial government subsidies in Indonesia. The demand for palm oil left Indonesia in flames as the farmers “slashed and burned” old rainforest to make way for crop production. By avoiding the products with the many-named “palm oil” we can do our small part to decrease international demand and protect our world’s natural biodiversity and beauty.