Tropical deforestation can seem an intractable problem. The systems that bring forest-risk agricultural commodities to markets around the world involve tens of thousands of farmers, land speculators and traders; and a vast web of interlocking value chains and dependencies.
The Brazilian farmer surveying her fields and the Paraguayan rancher watching a column of dusty backs mounting the ramp of a cattle truck have little idea where their exported produce will end up. Likewise, a truckload of protein feed arriving at a Spanish pig farm bears little trace of the plantations where soy was grown, the farm hands who tended them or the forests that perhaps occupied the same land just a few years before.
Over the past five years, the Trase initiative, led by SEI and Global Canopy, has aimed to fill those knowledge gaps, to reveal those connections. By stitching together diverse data sets on production, shipping, slaughterhouses and more, it has created maps of the “middle ground” of the global supply chains of major agricultural commodities whose consumption is driving tropical deforestation, such as soy and beef from Latin America and palm oil from Indonesia, as well as some that could do so in the future, such as Colombian coffee.
Trase’s unique and freely available data are increasingly recognized as a powerful asset in the field of supply chain sustainability and transparency. The data link countries and companies around the world back to local production landscapes in the tropics and, often, to commodity-driven deforestation, via hundreds of thousands of individual trade flows representing millions of tonnes of commodities making up producer countries’ entire annual exports.
Trase Yearbook 2020
This week sees a key milestone for Trase’s mission, the launch of Trase Yearbook 2020, presenting a collection of new data and insights on how some the most important agricultural commodity supply chains originating in Latin America and Indonesia, how they link companies and markets to deforestation, and the impact and coverage of zero-deforestation commitments. The data cover more than half of all global trade in forest-risk commodities.
The Yearbook makes Trase data more accessible than ever before, thanks to a raft of compelling interactive visualizations, key statistics and clear analytical summaries.
One of the many interactive data visualizations available in Trase Yearbook 2020. This one shows how showing how different traders were exposed to deforestation risk through their exports of Indonesian palm oil.
“In only a few clicks, you can easily travel from country to country to get the deeper stories behind the data and bring more clarity to our collective impact on deforestation from international trade,” according to Michael Lathuillière, Senior Research Fellow at SEI and Data Scientist for Trase.
The Yearbook also presents facts and findings to complement the data, zeroing in on specific aspects of supply chains, such as the disproportionately high deforestation risk attached to Brazil’s live cattle exports, or offering facts and findings from studies using or complementing Trase data, such as new ways of calculating the carbon footprints of individual commodity flows in unprecedented detail, or linking consumption to impacts on individual species.
From data to insight
While the Yearbook is limited to high-level summaries and aggregations of the very rich data accessible through Trase’s online platform trase.earth, this is also key to its added value.
“Producing this Yearbook has given us a valuable chance to step back and look at the overall patterns of agricultural expansion and deforestation, the shape of the markets, and what difference companies’ and countries’ zero-deforestation commitments have had – and, most important of all, the best opportunities we have for effective action to end commodity-driven deforestation,” says Toby Gardner, Senior Research Fellow at SEI and Director of Trase.
Trase Yearbook 2020 is designed to be both a snapshot of the state of commodity-driven deforestation and a reference resource. The synthesized analysis can help those working on deforestation-free supply chains to identify concentrations of deforestation risk exposure needing targeted interventions, or critical gaps in the coverage of zero-deforestation commitments.
With the Yearbook, Trase hopes to introduce its offering to a wider audience, showcasing a new approach to presenting Trase insights to the world. And finally, by doing so it seeks to stimulate uptake of Trase data and insights by key users in civil society, government and the private sector, as well as independent researchers, to help accelerate understanding and action on supply chain sustainability.
“When SEI and Global Canopy founded Trase, we aimed to contribute to a step change in the transparency of global forest-risk supply chains. I hope that the coverage of data and analysis included in the Yearbook indicates that that change is happening. The days when commodity buyers and investors were so disconnected from their upstream supply chains that they could not get to grips with deforestation and other sustainability issues are rapidly receding,” says Helen Bellfield, lead editor of the Yearbook and Trase lead at Global Canopy.
Sample insights from Trase Yearbook 2020
The power to leverage change
The Yearbook underlines that when we talk about the deforestation economy, we are really talking about just a handful of deforestation hotspots, a handful of commodities, and a handful of companies that control enough of the trade to turn the problem around. For example, more than half of the deforestation to make way for soy crops in Brazil in 2018 happened in just 1% of soy-producing municipalities. In Paraguay, the top five beef exporters were associated with 85% of exported deforestation risk. And the deforestation footprint of Brazilian beef exports is more than 1000 times larger per ton than that of the country’s chicken exports.
Critical gaps in the coverage of zero-deforestation commitments
While the number of major traders committed to deforestation-free supply chains is growing, and some companies are starting to play a leading role in tackling deforestation, commitments are often selective in terms of where they apply, and to what commodities. This means that some of the fragile areas experiencing the most intensive deforestation, such as the Brazilian Cerrado, have far less protection than the Amazon.
EU importing higher-risk commodities
While China is overall the biggest buyer of the forest-risk commodities examined in the Yearbook, the EU member states are frequently buying commodities with a higher relative deforestation risk (i.e. commodities more likely to be produced on newly deforested land). Linked to this, the carbon footprint of Brazilian soy imports by Spain is six times larger per ton than that of China’s imports of the same commodity, when taking into account land conversion, farming practices, transport and processing.