The Atlantic Forest runs along the eastern coast of Brazil and inland into Argentina and Paraguay. The region includes major cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and it is home to more than 148 million people. It’s also responsible for 70 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product. The Atlantic Forest hosts around 20,000 species of plants and thousands of species of animals, many of which are endemic to this single area.
Due to the limited reporting about the Atlantic Forest, it lacks the kind of public pressure that has compelled action and collaboration between industry, conservation groups, and forest-dependent communities in the Amazon region. But as advocates and companies turn their attention to neglected forests like the Atlantic, as well as tackling climate change and deforestation more broadly, working together can achieve more significant results, experts say.
New initiative brings companies and communities together as ‘Forest Allies’
In addition to supplying many of the products we use in our everyday lives and providing critical benefits like carbon sequestration and water regulation, forests support approximately 1.3 billion forest communities and Indigenous Peoples who rely on them for their livelihoods. Forest Allies, a new initiative from the Rainforest Alliance, brings companies together with forest-dependent communities to tackle deforestation and resilience issues. Through their work to maintain and restore forests and the biodiversity within them, Forest Allies prioritizes helping forest communities adapt to climate change and improve economic livelihoods while elevating their expertise in partnerships to implement sustainable forest management at scale.
“Collaboration is key,” Samantha Morrissey, forest products sector lead for the Rainforest Alliance, told TriplePundit. “We often see our partners across various sectors sourcing from the same landscapes and regions experiencing similar challenges, but [they] often lack the opportunity to come together to learn from each other, pool resources and co-create solutions.”
Further, even as companies that rely on forests for their supply chains become more aggressive about developing strategies around sustainability and forestry, their efforts are somewhat limited if they can’t engage the full range of local stakeholders.
“Very small companies with limited supply chains do have the opportunity to engage directly with their suppliers and ask these important questions” related to implementing sustainable practices and building policies based on local needs, Morrissey explained. “But large international companies continue to struggle to gain the visibility within their supply chains needed to engage in this way, and given the scale and size of their sourcing footprints, such an exercise would be prohibitive in terms of time and resource intensive.”
To address this disconnect, the Rainforest Alliance compiled a learning assessment and inventory based on their experience working with community forest enterprises and formed the Forest Allies community of practice. The aim of these efforts is to enable all actors across industries, sectors and the supply chain, regardless of size, to contribute to the improved health of a region by enabling community forest management at scale.
The Forest Allies initiative leverages the Accountability Framework, and requires members are to align their policies, strategies, and activities with it. The Framework is a set of norms to help companies define and operationalize deforestation-free supply chains alongside a common approach to monitoring, verifying, and reporting their progress.
Overall, Forest Allies members want to reorient stakeholder conversations to better balance top-down approaches, such as certifications and corporate policies, with a bottom-up approach that centers communities, which they say can help redefine what business-as-usual looks like.
Corporate decision-making is historically focused on prioritizing time, quality, cost and profits, leaving inadequate space for collaboration and partnerships that take time and resources to build. “Now, we have seen an emergence of the dedicated consumer and the ‘impact corporation’ where decisions are made not only based on time, quality and costs, but also in consideration of impacts and externalities,” Morrissey told us. “This shift requires collaboration and partnerships in order to be successful, because the challenges we face are too great for any one company to address alone.”
It takes a village
Corporate commitments for individual supply chains are no longer enough to tackle deforestation and the concomitant problems of human rights violations and poverty. Those commitments need to align with “public-sector measures that improve land sector governance, enable sustainable rural development, and create incentives to conserve forests,” Morrissey said.
The inextricable link between the forest, the communities that depend on it, and the corporations that rely on it for their supply chain needs is clear. As such, solutions to maintaining the health of the forest must also address the health and well-being of forest-dependent people and enterprises. As climate change continues to affect forests, adaptation and resilience measures must be socially just and include responsible forest management and land stewardship in order to protect and strengthen the bonds of interdependence between people and nature.
Morrissey noted the positive impacts of such measures in forested areas of Guatemala and Mexico, where the Rainforest Alliance works with local associations, governments, industry and communities to reduce forest fire risk through improved forest management. Companies including Procter & Gamble, a longtime partner of the Rainforest Alliance, are also making more stringent commitments to work beyond their supply chains to improve the resilience of forest-dependent communities. Companies including Procter & Gamble, Tiffany & Co. and Williams Sonoma are already engaged with Forest Allies, and Rainforest Alliance is still actively recruiting new corporate members .
Continuing the work to protect and restore forests
The Rainforest Alliance and its partners are far from the only groups working to improve forest management by engaging corporate and local stakeholders.
Regardless of who is spearheading the effort, the key to an effective, sustainable solution is understanding the root causes of the issues on the ground and aligning goals and solutions accordingly. For example, Morrissey referenced a partner that wanted to use only pesticide-free natural rubber, and instead of limiting their suppliers through policies, visited smallholder rubber farms to understand why pesticides are used and learned that the long grass between the trees hid snakes, so farmers used pesticides to keep the grass back. As a simple solution the partner paid for the grass to be mown. “[Companies] can’t go out and mow all of their suppliers’ lawns, but they can invest in community forest management and support that investment through meaningful engagement in our community of practice and the partnerships that result,” she told us.
In the end, long-term conservation of any forest must recognize that the best guardians are those who depend on the forest for their lives and livelihoods. Collaborating from the top-down and the bottom-up means that when stakeholders meet in the middle, their solutions are likely to be more equitable and comprehensive.
This article series is sponsored by Procter & Gamble and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.
Image credit: Daniel Gladston/Wikimedia Commons
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