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 farm land, destroying valuable wildlife habitat, 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.

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

Recognising 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. 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. By 2021, Trase aims to map the trade of over 70% of total production in major forest risk commodities, catalysing a transformation in supply chain sustainability.

What is the vision for Trase?

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. The initial focus of Trase is on Latin American soy, followed by beef in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, palm oil in Indonesia and Colombia and coffee in Colombia. Additional countries and commodities will be added as the platform develops.

The Cerrado, a vast and extremely biodiverse savannah. Photo: Alicia Prager.

Trase will support 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.

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). 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; and
  • It covers all of the exports of a given commodity from a given country of production.

Trase therefore seeks to map the supply chains of entire countries and commodities (e.g. Brazilian soy) at scales that are relevant to local decision-making (e.g. municipalities in Brazil). This uniquely broad coverage means that users can prioritize the places and actors that warrant the greatest attention, and focus on collecting additional information on individual producers or upstream buyers only where it is needed. Broad coverage also ensures that shifts in the sourcing patterns of a particular buyer or trader, and associated social and environmental impacts and risks, can be tracked and assessed over space and time.

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 higher-level 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. We then apply the SEI-PCS approach 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. Whilst 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.

If you are interested in more detail please read our manual on the supply chain mapping methods (SEI-PCS) that underpin Trase as well as a factsheet on the latest version of the SEI-PCS model for Brazilian soy, Trase’s flagship product.

While the modelling framework and decision logic that underpin the SEI-PCS approach are transferable between different commodities and countries, each model of SEI-PCS is highly tailored to the specific country and commodity context, requiring detailed knowledge of national production, logistics, taxation and other commodity-country-specific data. To learn about plans for SEI-PCS and Trase expansion to other countries and commodities please sign up for our newsletter.

Data sources

The use of multiple independent datasets to “triangulate” flows of traded commodities from regions of production via trading companies to countries of import is central to the SEI-PCS approach. Trase uses existing data, such as customs records and trade contracts, tax registration data, and production data, and is one of the first initiatives to make systematic use of per-shipment customs and shipping data for sustainability research. The SEI-PCS approach is highly flexible and can be adapted to include new datasets that can help add further detail and/or provide additional validation for individual material flows.

Trase does not use any private or confidential information. All data sources are either publicly available (including from government and industry websites as well as repositories) or available for purchase (such as from trade intelligence companies and government repositories). Where we have used purchased data to map supply chains for a specific commodity, such as per-shipment customs declarations or bills of lading, this data is masked alongside multiple other data sources in the SEI-PCS model and is aggregated in a way that makes it impossible to reverse engineer the raw data. A description of all the data sources currently used in Trase, and their sources, can be found here (PDF).

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, 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 the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Global Environment Facility, WWF, European Union, UK aid from the UK government, Swedish Research Institute Formas and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.