How much forest did you have for breakfast today?

IDF logo: FAO Forestry

How much forest did you have for breakfast today?

Blog Post, on the International Day of Forests, by Focali researcher Sabine Henders.

I don't know how it is for you, but to me it seems that there are a lot of forest and land events out there at the moment. Especially the next two weeks are full of scientific conferences, policy meetings, tree planting activities, media and awareness events on forest and land issues, which I think is great and necessary! I admit that I might be slightly over-receptive to these topics at the moment - I have been wearing my forest glasses for quite some time now as I am currently finishing my PhD thesis on deforestation and land use displacement that I will finally defend in a seminar next week. But even without my personal bias, forest and land issues seem to receive increasing attention. Various events are being held these days - starting with the Open Science Meeting of the Global Land Project (GLP) I am attending this week. Today, the final day of the meeting here in Berlin, is also the International Day of Forests as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. This day on 21st of March aims to “celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests”. Actors across the globe are today using this day to increase awareness about the plight of earth’s forest ecosystems, their importance for human well-being and people’s lives, as well as the different threats they face from overexploitation, deforestation and other human activities 

With this, the spotlight is turning to two important but often overlooked or taken-for-granted resources: forests and land for agriculture and other human uses, which have supported the development of modern human societies, and continue to do so. Where would we as human beings stand without agriculture or without the variety of forest products, foremost timber, but also all the other products that are coming out of forests?

Challenging choices at GLP conference
Concerns about deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change have pushed sustainability issues onto the agenda for many people, among them policy-makers and scientists. Sustainability and sustainable resource management are the motto of the international forest day and also a central topic of the GLP conference. The conference, subtitled 'land transformations: between global challenges and local realities', brings together nearly 700 international researchers working in various disciplines on the joint topic of land change issues. The conference provides a platform for the participating researchers to share their research results, insights and questions. The topics range from land governance to new perspectives on land transitions, the impacts of and responses to land changes, and the role of local land users and land owners in an increasingly globalized world. The GLP programme is tight and highly diverse- with up to 12 parallel sessions in three programme blocks per day, there will be a total of 550 presentations between Wednesday and Friday, making the choice of which ones to attend one of the daily challenges.

The topic that I find most interesting is ‘teleconnections’ - or the trade-related geographical separation of resource consumption and the land-use base. Research on this topic addresses central sustainability challenges such as the question how to deal with an increasing spatial gap between places where food and other agricultural commodities are produced, and places where they are consumed. The quantification of distant links between tropical deforestation and global demand for agricultural products took up a major part of my PhD project, therefore I was really happy to get the opportunity to present my research on this topic at the GLP conference on Wednesday. 

Demand-side actions needed
One of the main things I learned from my research is that consumption of agricultural forest-risk commodities such as beef, palm oil and soy can induce deforestation and land-use change in the countries producing these products for the world market. Between 2000 and 2010, more than half of the deforestation due to expanding palm oil production in Indonesia and soybean cultivation in Brazil has happened for the production of export commodities, with the major parts of those crops being consumed in places like Europe, China or India. Beef consumption in Russia and the Middle East also contributes to deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon.

This shows that it is really important to dedicate funds and attention not only into prominent conservation programmes like REDD+, which rewards land users to reduce deforestation rates. Instead it is crucial to see the whole picture and also foster demand-side action that incentivizes people to make more conscious choices, leading to a more sustainable consumption, establishing more responsible public procurement policies, or even consumer boycotts of products whose supply chains lead to destruction elsewhere. 

Linking consumption and environmental impacts
Working on deforestation and its distant drivers for the last five years has left me convinced that forest and ecosystem destruction can only be reduced when all available strategies are combined. We need to find ways to provide incentives, not necessarily always financial, to bring about more sustainable ways of producing agricultural commodities, by showing the links between lifestyles and consumption patterns and their environmental impacts on the natural resource base.

In fact, the International Day of Forests today could be a great day to start finding out about the environmental impacts of our individual consumption habits - or as the Global Canopy Programme, author of the 'Little book of big deforestation drivers', put it: “how much forest did you have for breakfast today?”

Sabine Henders PhD defence 27th of March: 

Sabine Henders will defend her PhD thesis “To leak or not to leak?: Land-Use Displacement and Carbon Leakage from Forest Conservation” on Thursday 27th of March, at 10:15 in Önnesjösalen (Kåkenhus, Campus Norrköping), with Prof. Arild Angelsen from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) as opponent. 

Read more about Sabine Henders here

Sabine Henders

Subscribe to our newsletter