Agricultural expansion to produce commodities such as soy, palm oil, timber, and beef is driving two-thirds of tropical deforestation worldwide. Forests are cleared to make way for farmland, destroying valuable wildlife habitats, affecting the livelihoods of local communities, and exacerbating climate change.

Trase seeks to transform our understanding of agricultural commodity supply chains by increasing transparency, revealing the links to environmental and social risks in tropical forest regions, and creating opportunities to improve the sustainability of how these commodities are produced, traded and consumed.

What is Trase?

Soy silos stand in Luis Eduardo Magalhães, Bahia state. Photo: Flávia Milhorance.

Recognizing the value of forests and other tropical ecosystems, some governments, companies and investors have made ambitious commitments to achieve deforestation-free supply chains – some by as early as 2020. But the complexity and opacity of supply chains are major barriers to delivering on these; if the buyers don’t know where their supply chains start or end, who is involved in them, or whether they are exposed to risks as a result, how can they take action to ensure they are sustainable?

Trase addresses this problem, using publicly available data to map the links between consumer countries via trading companies to the places of production in unprecedented detail on its online platform, trase.earth. Trase can show how commodity exports are linked to agricultural conditions – including specific environmental and social risks – in the places where they are produced, allowing companies, governments and others to understand the risks and identify opportunities for more sustainable production.

Trase provides data at scale, free of charge, comprehensively mapping supply chains for key commodities from entire countries and regions.

Vision

The vision of Trase is to provide, by 2021, the go-to public supply chain information system for companies, governments, investors and other actors seeking to transition towards more sustainable production, trade and consumption for the world´s major forest-risk agricultural commodities.

Trase aims to cover over 70% of the total traded volume of major forest-risk commodities, including soy, beef, palm oil, timber, pulp and paper, coffee, cocoa and aquaculture products. Additional countries and commodities are being added as the platform develops. Read the Trase vision for 2020 here.

Who is Trase for?

The Cerrado, a vast and extremely biodiverse savannah, contains some of the biggest frontiers of agricultural expansion and deforestation in Brazil. Photo: Alicia Prager

Trase supports actors at every stage of the supply chain to make smarter decisions, both through direct use of trase.earth, and via the assessments and insights that are made possible using the information Trase provides. This includes:

  • Commodity traders striving to meet sustainability commitments and to de-risk their supply chains. The platform provides the data and tools to monitor company progress, demonstrate their sustainability credentials to consumers and business partners, identify other actors along their supply chains to cooperate with, and plan more sustainable sourcing strategies.
  • Producer country governments who want to promote sustainable production, reduce poverty, build effective partnerships with companies down the supply chain, and monitor the activities of producers and exporters across different jurisdictions.
  • Consumer country governments who want to understand and manage their countries’ socio-environmental impacts abroad, make sustainable procurement decisions and meet trade and sourcing sustainability commitments.
  • Civil society organizations and multi-stakeholder processes committed to providing independent monitoring and assessment of private- and public-sector actors involved in the trade of globally significant commodities, including those that have made individual or collective commitments such as under the New York Declaration on Forests.

As the platform develops, Trase aims to provide specific decision support to stakeholders; for example investors who want to de-risk their portfolios, manufacturers and retailers as well as consumer groups committed to more sustainable consumption, and journalists and campaigning groups who play a vital watchdog role in strengthening the accountability of global supply chains.

How does Trase work?

Trase is at the forefront of a data-driven revolution in supply chain sustainability, drawing on vast sets of production, trade and customs data, for the first time laying bare the flows of globally traded commodities at scales that are directly relevant to decision-making. Its pioneering approach to data analysis and visualization provides full coverage of the export routes and buyers responsible for all production and trade, and the associated sustainability risks, of a given commodity.

The supply chain mapping at the core of Trase balances scale and data resolution. It builds on an enhanced form of material flow analysis called Spatially Explicit Information on Production to Consumption Systems (SEI-PCS) originally developed by Godar et al. (2015). Three capabilities of the Trase approach together set it apart from other approaches to supply chain mapping:

  • It systematically links individual supply chain actors to specific, subnational production regions, and the sustainability risks and investment opportunities associated with those regions
  • It identifies the individual companies that export, ship and import a given traded commodity
  • It covers all of the exports of a given commodity from a given country of production.

The starting point for applying the SEI-PCS approach to a specific country and commodity is national-level export data, linking countries of production to downstream traders and countries of import. This analysis explores material flows and associated sustainability impacts, risks and performance measures at national level, as well as providing an entry point for more detailed work on poorly studied geographies and sectors.

The SEI-PCS approach is then applied to map subnational trade flows, discriminating production regions down to the lowest level of government administrative unit that the data and the complexity of the supply chain allow. Often this is defined by the availability of production data at subnational scales. While it may be possible in some contexts to link supply chains to individual farms or production areas, the core focus of Trase is on mapping to subnational regions of production.

Two broad approaches are used for this subnational analysis:

  • Version 1 models rely heavily on modelling techniques, typically using transportation costs and optimization algorithms to allocate export volumes to individual production regions, with connections between companies and source regions constrained in particular by patterns of shared ownership between individual export shipments and supply chain infrastructure on the ground.
  • Version 2 models use a more data-driven approach that identifies the subnational origin of individual material trade flows within the trade and customs information, and triangulates this information with other independent data sets, including the logistics of trading companies, production and taxation. Version 2 provides more accurate discrimination of individual sourcing regions for a particular shipment, but is only possible where data allows. A summary of the methods used for each supply chain map, as well as descriptive statistics of that supply chain, are provided within the data tools of the site and when downloading the data.

More information on Trase methods and data sources can be found at the trase.earth About section and in a document on the supply chain mapping methods (SEI-PCS) that underpin Trase.

Partners

Trase is a partnership between the Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy. We work closely with Vizzuality, the European Forest Institute, and many other partners.

These include Agrosatelite, BV Rio, Chalmers University, Conservation International, Gibbs Land Use and Environment Laboratory at Wisconsin University, International Institute for Sustainability, Imaflora, InfoAmazonia, León University, Louvain University, Luc Hoffmann Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Transitions, University of Bonn (ZEF – Center for Development Research), University of Hawai’i, University of Santa Barbara, University of Sao Paulo, World Conservation Monitoring Centre, World Resources Institute and WWF.

Funders

Trase is made possible through the generous funding of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Global Environment Facility through the Good Growth Partnership via World Wildlife Fund, the European Union, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, UK aid from the UK government, the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Swedish research council for sustainable development, Formas.