Sustainable supply chain development in forest communities

Rainforests are vital, yet deforestation is driven by short-term economic gain. How can forest communities develop sustainably? This Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) project examined Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) associated with tropical forest conservation (SDG 15) and sustainable supply chain management (SDGs 2, 9 and 12) to scope the potential for sustainable supply chains between multinational buyers and tropical forest communities.

Overview

The challenge is to improve the existing economic and social conditions of rural communities while protecting biodiversity and countering the pull of logging. This project reviews measurements for economy, social outcomes and environment, and the challenges and opportunities. Specific forest communities were involved so that humanitarian and ecological aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could be explored at a local level, with a view to then applying the findings to other communities facing similar challenges. Commodity supply chains were considered to explore the links between different forms of buyers and opportunities for supplier development to contribute to improved sustainability outcomes.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 1 – No Poverty
    SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being
    SDG 4 – Quality Education
    SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
    SDG 9  Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
    SDG 15  Life on Land
    SDG 17  Partnerships for the Goals

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

The project involved three elements; first, a literature review linking sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) literature to international development (ID) literature. The current state of the debate on sustainability indicators in the academic and policy making community and in the philanthropic and impact investment communities were reviewed. A focus on the indicators relevant to a specific context in the Amazon helped provide insight into the interplay between universal indicators and context-specific indicators.

The second element was a review and benchmarking exercise into the current state of data collection on the ecology of forests. Currently, the University of Sussex has excellent capabilities in this, and this element helped build stronger links to the UK and international centres of expertise, and how these link to the SDG indicators.

The third element piloted bringing these sets of indicators together, the social, economic and the environmental. Fieldtrips helped to establish the practicalities and related costs of recording ecological data relevant to the needs of practical sustainable development in these communities. The Principal Investigator (PI) led on all three elements, with support from co-investigators (Co PIs) - experts in each of the different areas. The project involved a post-doctoral research fellow to support data aggregation, writing up findings, administrative support for the project, and engaging with relevant individuals and partner organisations. The timescale of delivering the outputs was on a quarterly basis and helped support further research applications relevant to specific aspects that required more work.

Timeline and funding

Timeline

March 2018-December 2019

Funding

£52,000

Methods

Mixed methods included: 

  • Examination of sites in Peru at the Western forest frontier of the Amazon rainforest and Southern forest frontier, Mato Grosso, Brazil, including preliminary fieldwork in Peru
  • Workshop at the University of Sussex with interdisciplinary researchers; and practitioners from commodity buyers, technology organisations and NGOs, working on forests, trade, and supply chains
  • Content and discourse analysis of NGO-held data, company reports, zero deforestation initiatives, government disclosed data
  • Interviews with NGOs, companies, small scale farmers, zero deforestation initiative secretariat, and government officers
  • Evaluation of ecosystem services along a disturbance gradient at the boundary of the Peruvian Amazon using spatial data.

Findings

  • There are significant tensions between agroecological farming methods encouraged by local organisations (SDG 15) versus sustainable intensification underpinning the approaches of large agribusinesses (SDG 2) 
  • There is a contradiction between national infrastructure investment policies, such as for roadbuilding – justified as essential for economic development – and conservation
  • Proximate and underlying drivers of deforestation in study sites are complex, so nuanced policy responses must be explored
  • Corporate commitments to “zero deforestation” are problematic given supply chain complexity and high levels of opacity, and lack of policy coherence. Cutting off suppliers from supply chains can create “leakage markets” which must be considered during supplier deselection or boycotts
  • Data is fragmented, but new data collection technologies bring potential opportunities for improving transparency and traceability related to commodity sourcing. However, new challenges emerge, including: who is ‘responsibilised’ for data collection, what is the data quality, and how is the data used and accessed. Local conservation NGOs take on collection of socio-economic data where state presence is low; the accuracy of global deforestation datasets is disputed; commercially-led data platforms hold SDG data but restrict access
  • Rising global food demand and a slowdown in yield growth, plus further pressure from biomass/biofuels, is driving up deforestation.

Conclusion

A sustainable supply chain between forest frontier communities and multinational buyers has potential, but faces the challenge of not maximising profits (as deforestation does). Technologies for improving transparency and traceability could provide opportunities for governance but this is politically contested. The relative power of consumer-facing brands, commodity brokers, investors and governments, is central to improved understanding and subsequent engagement. 

Related work

The SSRP research team ran a session at the Global Land Programme (GLP) open science meeting in Bern, Switzerland (April 2019) on 'Sustainable Rainforest Communities: Supply Chains, Trade-offs and Emerging Technologies'.

Nur Hasanah, from ETH Zurich, presented work using a board game to work with local communities in Indonesia on how changes in land use such as palm oil plantations would affect future prosperity and environmental outcomes. Britaldo Filho of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil described work using the Dinamica EGO software for modelling the economic potential of non-timber forest resources in the Brazilian Amazon. Marcos Moreu, of the extreme citizen science unit at University College London, discussed user-centred design of mobile aps, used by non-literate communities to track illegal poaching, illegal logging, aid farming and species identification. SSRP PI Anthony Alexander, described how the UN SDGs provide a potential data architecture for linking all of these opportunities, recording sustainability outcomes across social, economic and environmental issues, and how these relate to commodity supply chains.

We look forward to consolidating this area of work in future activities, and contributing to the wider GLP community working on deforestation, development and supply chains.

The team

Where we worked

Field work was conducted in Peru, with additional cases explored in Brazil.