If you’ve ever had cake for breakfast, drank soy milk, used soaps at home, or built a nice flat piece of furniture, you may have contributed to deforestation and climate change.
Each item has a price, but the cost is not only felt in our pockets. Hidden in that price is a complex chain of production, encompassing economic, social and environmental relationships that support livelihoods and, unfortunately, contribute to habitat destruction, deforestation and the warming of our planet.
Approximately 4 billion hectares of forests worldwide act as carbon sinks that, in the last two decades, have absorbed 7.6 billion net metric tons of CO annually2. That’s the equivalent of 1.5 times the annual emissions of the United States.
On the contrary, a cleared forest becomes a source of carbon. Many factors lead to forest clearing, but the root cause is economic. Farmers clear the forest to expand their farms, support livestock grazing, harvest timber, extract minerals, and build infrastructure such as roads. Until that economic pressure disappears, compensation can continue.
However, in 2024 we will see a big boost to global efforts to fight deforestation. New EU legislation will make it illegal to sell or export a variety of products if they have been produced on deforested land. Sellers must identify exactly the origin of their product, down to the geolocation of the parcel. Penalties are tough, including bans and fines of up to 4 percent of the offender’s annual turnover throughout the EU. As such, The rejection of the industry has been strong, claiming that the costs are too high or the requirements too onerous. Like many global frameworks, this initiative is led by the EU, and other countries will surely follow as the so-called Brussels Effect pressures more and more jurisdictions to adopt its methods.
The impact of these measures will only be as strong as the app and, in 2024, we will see new ways to do it digitally. At Farmerline (which I co-founded), for example, we’ve been working on supply chain traceability for over a decade. We encourage compliance with rules, making it beneficial.
When we digitize farmers and enable them and other stakeholders to track their products from soil to shelves, they also gain access to a set of other products: the latest and most sustainable agricultural practices in their own language, access to flexible financing to finance climate change. smart products such as drought-resistant seeds, solar irrigation systems and organic fertilizers, and the ability to earn more through international commodity markets.
Digitalization helps build resilience and lasting wealth for smallholder farmers and helps save the environment. Another example is the World Economic Forum’s OneMap, a privacy-preserving, open-source digital tool that helps governments use geospatial and farmer data to improve planning and decision-making in agriculture and land. In India, the Data Empowerment Protection Architecture also provides a secure, consent-based data sharing framework to accelerate global financial inclusion.
In 2024 we will also see more food companies and food certification bodies leverage digital payment tools, such as mobile money, to ensure that farmers’ remuneration is not only direct and transparent, but also better if they comply with deforestation regulations.
The fight against deforestation will also be facilitated by advances in hardware technology. New lightweight drones from startups like air seed can plant seeds, while higher up, minisatellites, like those of Planet Laboratories, are taking millions of images per week, allowing governments and NGOs to track areas being deforested in almost real time. In Rwanda, researchers are using AI and aerial images captured by Planet Labs to calculate, monitor and estimate carbon stocks across the country.
With these advances in software and hard technology, in 2024, the global fight against deforestation will finally begin to take new growth.