Watch this panel discuss fresh ideas and debate the future direction of climate research, from the Colloquium on Forests & Climate.
Research Director, Forests and Livelihoods, CIFOR
National Secretary for R&D Policies, MCTI, Brazil
Chief, Ecosystem Services Economics Unit, UNEP
Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University Bloomington
Executive Director, Earth Innovation Institute
Director of Research, Agriculture and Food Security Center, Columbia University
Colloquium on Forests & Climate: New Thinking for Transformational Change, Columbia University, New York. #forestsclimate
Forests & Climate Discussion:
Well, thank you very much and good afternoon. I’m Christine Padoch and I direct CIFOR’s research on forests and livelihoods. And I, together with you, heard six really exciting presentations from each of our six panelists. I do need to say that John Holdren needed to leave us because of urgent business I assume – more urgent than sitting on our panel. But we have heard, I think, all six of these talks, I think you all found very informative, very exciting. Each from a different viewpoint, each based on distinct experiences, using different tools, different approaches, and I think that would be enough. I think that was very enriching to all of us. And if we were to end there, it would be enough for all of us.
But, as many of our speakers have actually pointed out, we can’t afford in trying to really affect policy on something as complex as sustainable development, as improving livelihoods, as contributing to the health of landscapes that include forests – we can’t afford to be just a single voice. We can’t afford to use one viewpoint. We can’t afford to base our work on just one set of experiences. And actually, many of our speakers here are those who have been – who have already done that. Who have learned to integrate many experiences, have learned to integrate many people in their science and in the policy relevant science that they do, and in the recommendations that they can make.
So let’s just continue this a little bit now, and join in a conversation. And not only a conversation between, among our panelists, but also a conversation with you. So I expect that pretty soon we’ll get the questions that we’re going to pose to our panel, and that we’re going to discuss among ourselves as a panel. But first I’d like to give each one of our panelists a very short time, maybe two to three minutes, to give us a little bit of their reflections on what their other, what their colleagues, have said. And what has actually come out from the integration of the various things that we heard? So I guess maybe beginning with Carlos, since you’ve been sitting here and hearing most of this for the longest. Please, we would appreciate, but very brief – two to three minutes – because we are running a bit over time.
Yes, thanks a lot. Yes. It was illuminating to hear different perspectives. Let me just say, I’ve known some of the people here, and Eduardo for many years – decades actually, to tell the truth. And it’s interesting because, I guess, if I put together, there are two talks. It shows, really, the dilemmas that we are facing in Brazil. On one hand, yes, innovation is central. In fact, the ministry I worked in 2011 put in the I. It’s now Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Innovation is recognized to be a very important element of this, the development strategy. And I could not disagree with one thing that Dan mentioned about the ways of constructing a sustainable future for the Amazon. Yes, those good success stories can be translated to other tropical countries. Intensification, as Cheryl, this is the way to go about tropical agriculture.
On the other hand, if you listen to Eduardo, then you saw that there are a lot of mismatches. This only innovation driven development, and intensification, agricultural productivity, more profits to farmers, does not lead automatically to reducing poverty and inequality. And this is a major challenge for developing countries. It is a major challenge for Brazil. Inequality was being reduced slowly, but too slow. So the equation is not a simple one, and I guess Eduardo very well put that question. That even though the well known success story of the Acai palm fruit, which is bringing in two-three billion dollars into the Amazon economy, not necessarily is causing a tremendous change in equality and income. And that has all to do with human capital, and that’s why I said in my third point, it’s the education revolution. If we fail tropical countries, and even within tropical countries poorer regions of tropical countries – if we fail in the education revolution, I’m pretty sure we are not going to reach development in the Amazon and other tropical countries.
So although I will stop my comments, saying I really liked all those elements, but putting them together we need to reduce inequality and poverty. And this is perhaps much more difficult than we might anticipate.
Three things, basically. I mean, I liked all the presentations. That was very rich. One thing which clearly emerges, and that also gives me a strength – to see that we really need integration of conservation. Whether it is change in the forest stock, or biomass, or emission of the greenhouse gases. We need to bring then this bio-geo-physical changes into our social and economic planning. So that is one, integration is needed. Secondly, from my own presentation, what I said, I wanted to reiterate. That there are some estimates and economic values, but there has been serious effort in the last 20 years or so, starting from the Stern Report or the economics of ecosystems of ecosystems and biodiversity. But, economic estimate must be socially, you know, credible. If they are not socially credible, then it becomes another video game that nobody is going to pay attention to.
Third, we talked about changing the basic compass of the progress. That is, the GDP or national income. It is not going to happen in one day, because it is nicely institutionalized and the first step should be that we have to improve them. But, in the long run, we have to think about a really better indicator which has a strong scientific basis. At the same time, they are easy and easy to comprehend by the policymakers. So I will stop here and will wait for some more questions before I go into further discussion.
Thank you. Very are many entry points here that I’d like to talk about. I’ll pick up on Dan’s push for what we call a polycentric approach. It means several initiatives that, in themselves, would sort of help to emerge larger solutions. There are limits to that, too, and I think that is the balance that we need to look for. You know, what are the structural, large-scale adjustments that are needed to facilitate the integration of these locally scaled solutions? Now, I’ll use my example of the poverty of municipalities as one example where important structural adjustments done at the national level could go a long way. So there are no incentives nowadays for the transformation of resources at the local level, in which the fiscal and the tax results of that would revert into urban infrastructure.
And I’ll bring with that the piece that I see indirectly or directly was discussed here, which is employment. One of the biggest transformations that we see in rural areas, you go in the Amazon, you go in Japan, you go Sweden, you go here, is that there are significant intergenerational changes in the way the youth engages with agriculture and engages with economic activities. And the lack of opportunities, the lack of creative industries that offer a perspective to the youth to stay in rural areas, to engage with production systems and not leave for cities is one of the key problems that we have to deal with. And that has a lot to do with, I think, reforms that are needed to promote value aggregation in forest areas around the world. Where employment and other things would come forward and will offer a different perspective to the youth population that now sees very little future production.
Yeah, I love the Acai story. If you fly into Belem, the islands around Belem are all forested. And they’ve been managed for Acai for decades. And I’ve always wondered, you know, how could Brazil have been jumped out in front on Acai, done the marketing, been the entrepreneurial agents so more of that value could have come to Brazilian companies and Brazilian producers? I think there’s really fantastic examples of policies that are getting it wrong today, that could be easily changed. And since so many of us are talking about Brazil, I’ll just cite a few examples. For example, there’s a ceiling on the price of gasoline in Brazil that has basically knocked the wind out of the sugarcane ethanol business. And it’s a retracting industry that should be expanding ethanol production. It’s one of the most efficient types of biofuel. Yes, I said the controversial word biofuel. It’s one of the most efficient ways to get fuel off the land, and Brazil’s fleet is almost all Flex Fuel or moving towards in that direction.
But this policy for containing inflation basically has gutted that industry. Another is – and this gets to your point on poor counties. Most counties, their budgets come from an allocation of the ICMS tax. And that tax is there on circulating merchandise, and it has killed the soy crushing industry in Brazil. So that has migrated to Argentina, so raw beans go from Brazil to China. The downside of that is that Brazil has now vertically integrated to do more poultry and pork, and so it’s sort of these missed opportunities – huge missed opportunities – that with a little bit of policy tweaking we could fix.
And Carlos, I share your dream of really exploiting commercially and sustainably the biodiversity, and Pushpam, I think the challenge with GDP is enormous. I still don’t know the answer, but it seems like it needs to be sort of a – Manhattan may be the wrong example to us here. But a massive influx of incentives and ingenuity and entrepreneurship. But we’ve been talking about it for decades and it hasn’t happened.
Well, I’ll start to highlight the diversity of indigenous situations that you find throughout the world, and how that relationship needs to pay attention to the context. And so that, I’d say that, you know, there is not a single solution to that. Because the relationship between local communities, indigenous communities, in different kinds of markets is very context specific. So it would be a mistake, I think, to think about magical bullets that cut across that. So that’s the first thing. The other thing is that there has been too little attention, I think, to investments in the intensification of local production systems, and to limit the bottlenecks in which those production systems work. And a lot of the problems in economic return that local communities have, have to do with very basic infrastructure in which the cost of transportation and other things eats the labor, the sweat of their labors.
So, the two points is the context specific nature of that – the other one is that a lot of the issues have to do with basic infrastructure needs that allow them to reap the benefits at different scales.
Second is something which – how to make the valuation a social process? And whenever we talk about economic value it looks like, no, you use market based or constructed market based, or those kinds of methods. But sometimes it has been found that they become a statistical juggle area. And to go to the policymakers, politicians, the prime ministers, the ministers, with those numbers, who know public purse probably better than anybody else – they find it reluctant to accept them. The reason is not that the valuation is wrong, but we lack confidence, we lack clarity. I’m talking about the economists. How to make our valuation clear, and how we should be confident where you have 10 minutes time with the president? And if you say that, oh, this happened, then that happened, then this happens, they are interlinked – there are also, you know, this system, that system? They are very good discourse. Do it in the classroom. But to take it to the policymakers who have the discretion and clout to influence the public at large, you have to be very clear. And there are not many good valuation experts who are clear in their message. A lot of research has to go into that. There are many more, but I will stop here.
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think smallholders are the vulnerable element of society, as – and first of all, I think it’s inevitable. I think the expansion of commodities into the tropics, it’s going to happen, and we have to deal with that. It’s not every country. It doesn’t dominate most tropical landscapes. Most tropical landscapes have a much greater diversity, other types of crops, but I think we’re seeing a lot of movement on this because this is where you get the leverage. When a few big companies can influence supply chains on palm, on soy, on beef, that’s where you get action. And that’s been where a lot of the focus has been. With smallholders, I think they tend to – they run the risk, because it’s so expensive to do farm by farm auditing, to see if they’re deforesting or not. The Dayak farmers of Kalimantan would love to have a patch of palm, but they do not want to abandon their swiddens. And so when a big company like a Wilmar announces a zero deforestation, that it’s not far enough into the future to allow the systems to adjust or something less than perfect but probably very good, which is a reduced deforestation target. And not to take anything away from Wilmar’s very sort of courageous announcement, but there is the risk that there’s going to be increased poverty and exclusion of communities through this sort of initiative.
And I think – we come back to, you have to increase the scale. Look at the entire landscape as Peter was talking about. Look at the entire district, the entire province. That’s where we should be measuring success and make sure that smallholders are not being excluded.
Well, the topic is very dear to me, I think. In part, that’s one of the topics that will get stuck in a polarizing discussion very often. In small farmers, I think they have a double exposure kind of scenario, a double pressure kind of scenario, which is very general. One is internal. I mean, the long lack of infrastructure, service, recognition, has created a situation where you have very little expectations among young farmers, you know, to continue on that route. On the other hand, you have openly in Brazil and elsewhere a criminalization of small farmer activities, such as swidden cultivation and others, in ways that are very unfair and very simplistic. So you have that sort of dilemma in which we live.
Now, on the other hand, I think it’s very difficult to imagine a future, an urban future, without a very active small farming economy – being localized or not. But if we do not think about the small farmer in the context of the employment need and in the context in which it can absorb an enormous amount of contingency that is now moving to the city, you know, it’s not a problem that will be solved with intensification without other things.