Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020

The TFA platform is where industry leaders from government, civil society, and private sector come together to push towards deforestation-free production.

Photo credit: Flickr/CIFOR

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is a precompetitive platform where industry leaders from government, civil society, and private sector come together to push whole jurisdictions towards deforestation-free production, generating economies of scale for producers, buyers and investors.

Forests provide food, water security and livelihoods for millions and are vital in the fight against climate change. But they are threatened by rampant deforestation linked to rising demand for food and consumer goods, which is only set to intensify as we move towards a population of 9 billion. Without switching to more sustainable land use, the world has scant hope of achieving the 2°C climate change target agreed in Paris – or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).1

This is a major problem. But it is also an opportunity. Huge levels of investment are needed to transform the global approach to forests and agricultural land – US$160 billion a year, according to analysis from consultancy AlphaBeta. That’s around 60% of the current spend on renewable energy, and it’s likely to be highly lucrative. The same report suggests returns on most investments would be above 10%.2 These figures make sense set against projected impacts. If smallholder farmers collectively adopted sustainable practices, for example, productivity would increase by 79%, says the International Finance Corporation (IFC).3

Many companies understand the stakes. According to CDP, 74% recognise at least one material business risk associated with the key commodities driving deforestation – and 89% see opportunities from sustainable sourcing of at least one commodity they produce or use.4 A rush of recent pledges bears out these stats. The 400+ members of the Consumer Goods Forum are targeting zero-net deforestation by 2020, for example.5 On palm oil alone, 19 major consumer goods companies, including L’Oréal and Kellogg’s, adopted zero deforestation policies in the eight months to September 2014. The potential gains are big: a single commitment from agribusiness giant Wilmar International promises to avoid over 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions by 2020, the equivalent of Central and South America’s combined emissions from energy consumption.6

But most private sector initiatives are financed through the supply chain, with producers taking the hit.7 And, while individual companies can make some headway, driving structural change needed depends on cross-sector collaboration. This is particularly the case given weak law enforcement and monitoring are recognised barriers to progress.8

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) was founded in 2012 with this in mind. The public-private partnership aims to foster a broad coalition of the willing to cut deforestation linked to palm oil, beef, soy and pulp and paper – the group of commodities responsible for the majority of tropical forest destruction.9 At the start of 2016, it had 68 committed partners, 27 of them private sector companies.10

Rather than take a project-by-project approach, TFA 2020 seeks to push whole jurisdictions towards deforestation-free production, generating economies of scale for producers, buyers and investors. It helps members to increase their competitiveness by investing in sustainable supply chains, and it exploits their collective capacity to develop strategies and clear implementation plans.11 It is also committed to working with investors, donors, multilateral organisations and local governments to understand and tackle the risks and barriers constraining investment.12 (TFA 2020 commissioned the AlphaBeta report.)

The first major test of TFA 2020’s approach is the Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI), an effort to transform the African palm oil sector into a driver of long-term, low-carbon and socially sustainable development. Launched in 2015, the programme is engaging with governments, companies, civil society, farmers and indigenous groups to draw up a set of principles that reconcile sustainable cultivation with ambitious national development plans.13 Workshops have been held in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Liberia, and other countries are set to follow.14

Member firms are excited about TFA 2020’s potential to improve business prospects through such initiatives. With its broad reach, the organisation can help create the conditions for farmers to operate in ways that benefit both the planet and the bottom line, for example by getting governments to incentivise banks to provide affordable loans to smallholder farmers, or subsidise the incomes of growers who have to wait several years for crops after planting new seeds, says Singaporean palm oil company Golden Agri-Resources. Benefits include improved reputation for palm oil, and mitigated business risks, it adds.15

Making the business case for zero deforestation at a national level can also help shift the view that efforts to protect forests are a rich-country plot to restrain development, says snacks company Mondelez International,16 while for Unilever – involved with TFA 2020 from the start – combining broad engagement with a tight, scientific focus on forestry is the key to success. That means higher productivity, a more secure supply chain and bigger profits.