Including smallholders in EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests

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In December 2021, the European Commission (EC) will release a regulatory proposal to minimise the European Union’s (EU) deforestation and forest degradation footprint. A new joint briefing paper by Fair Trade Advocacy Office, Solidaridad, Fern, IUCN NL and Tropenbos International outlines how the EC can ensure deforestation-free supply chains and at the same time recognise the rights, roles and potential positive contributions of smallholders.

Header photo: Woman weeding a salad plantation in a West African farming village. © Riccardo Mayer for Shutterstock, ID: 1599380701

The EC’s regulatory proposal to minimise the EU’s deforestation is in line with the first priority of its 2019 Communication on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests. ‘This new regulation focuses on the demand side of commodities like palm oil, soy and cocoa, but the EC has also committed supporting producer countries to tackle the underlying causes of deforestation such as poor governance and weak tenure security rights,’ Heleen van den Hombergh, senior expert agro commodities at IUCN NL explains.

Sustainable impact

The paper explains why legislative and supportive efforts need to go beyond avoiding high-risk areas and instead look at how to deliver supply chains that support producers to have a sustainable impact. To be truly effective, demand side and additional supply side measures against deforestation in EU forest and ecosystem risk commodities (FERCs) supply chains should strengthen rather than weaken the position of smallholders.

Highlights of the paper

The paper provides a number of recommendations to the EU:

  • Jointly develop and then implement roadmaps with producer countries to help smallholders to comply with EU requirements. These should be developed and implemented with the proper participation of smallholders themselves.
  • Promote, in partnership with producer countries, financial incentives for smallholders to move towards sustainable practices.
  • Promote landscape/jurisdictional approaches in which farmers organisations, the private sector and governments work together to roll out sustainable farming at the local level.
  • Increase smallholders’ access to affordable financing and loans to invest in sustainable production.
  • Strengthen smallholders’ tenure rights.
  • Facilitate a process between stakeholders to develop pricing models that enable farmers to earn a living income and produce sustainable deforestation-free goods.

Supply side measures

‘Effective EU legislation to combat ecosystem conversion is an important but complex matter,’ says Van den Hombergh. ‘We say: set the bar in Europe, but raise the floor of good governance in producing countries. That has to be reflected in a coherent set of rules and supportive supply side measures’, Van den Hombergh continues. ‘In palm oil and cacao production, smallholders are very important. In Indonesia, for example, 40 % of the land is managed by smallholders. How can we help them to improve their practices? This paper gives quite a number of suggestions for the EU to do that,’ Van den Hombergh concludes.

International commitments

Including smallholders is not only important for social justice, it will also help the EU meet its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals. This paper therefore outlines five guiding principles, and corresponding recommendations that the EU should take into account.

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