Forest News #8

Our January issue looks at commodities and some of the efforts (and challenges) in making their production more sustainable while contributing to restore degraded landscapes and improve livelihoods. The video highlight takes on the end-consumer's role in this work. Good reading and a good start of 2019!

This video by Conservation International promotes the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a collaborative effort of companies, governments, NGOs and research institutions, to make coffee production sustainable. But is it enough to demand “sustainable” as an end-consumer and still wish for unlimited supplies of coffee, chocolate, etc? What influences these global value chains? Check below for a bit more food for thought.

This month:


  • In Côte d’Ivoire, forest cover has been reduced by more than 80% since 1960, mainly due to the conversion of forests to full-sun cocoa plantations. To revert this massive impact, agroforestry is seen as one of the most promising solutions to halt deforestation while promoting sustainable cocoa farming. Neighbouring Ghana, where cocoa production has also been a major driver of deforestation and is still a vital cash crop for more than 800,000 households is also taking a proactive approach (see also the “Resources” section below).
  • Although the consequences should be predictable by now, traditional coffee agroforests in India are still being converted to “open sun” coffee systems. Helping to counter this trend, researchers at the ETH Zurich have focused on the traditional coffee agroforests in recent research. They work found that maintaining a diverse tree shade canopy is not only useful for biodiversity conservation but it also increases coffee production and quality as well as soil fertility.
  • Taking a longer view, researchers associated with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) have been documenting how Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) improves soil quality and crop yields in degraded lansdcapes. This set of techniques, based on helping natural plant stock to regrow rather than planting it, brings positive results at a low cost when compared to other approaches. It can also be easily integrated with agroforestry systems. This interview is part of a very interesting series being published by the Mongabay blog, called Global Agroforestry. Read more at their blog here.


  • Speaking of coffee, a recent article in Business Insider highlights the impact of climate change on coffee production. Starbucks, the fourth largest coffee seller in the world, is researching new heat-resistant tree varieties but the task is proving very challenging.
  • As coffee production is predicted to decrease and yet demand is expected to increase, the coffee sector faces many challenges. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a collaborative effort of companies, governments, NGOs and research institutions, is working to make coffee production sustainable. Check out their video and learn more how are they promoting demand for sustainable coffee across the value chain, from the policy-making level to the final consumer.
  • Another commodity that shows the challenges of implementing sustainable production and robust demand along the value chain is palm oil. In order to address the (many) challenges in this industry, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created in 2004. This coalition of players from different sectors in the palm oil industry, including producers, traders, banks and NGOs works as a global standards & certification body. However, as highlighted in Bloomberg recently, the demand – or willingness to pay – for sustainable palm oil seems to be lacking. Even though sustainable palm oil now corresponds to 20% of global production, only half of it is actually sold as certified oil, at a premium; the rest ends up in market pools of non-certified oil. An important point to reflect, as there is a global push across several food industries for sustainable production

Ecosystem services

  • Borrowing freely from JFK’s famous sentence: “Ask not what you can do for the trees but what the trees can do for you”, we jump on to ecosystem services by trees in cities and in mountain areas.
  • Urban trees have not only an aesthetic value, they also act as carbon sinks. A recent study by scientists from University College London mapped 85,000 trees in one borough of London and found that some woodlands can store as much carbon as comparable stands of tropical forests.
  • Across the world, in Chile, snow avalanches are becoming more frequent due to climate change and are threatening established local communities. As an ecosystem-based solution, forests can serve as a protective barrier against avalanches. IUCN is implementing the EPIC-project to promote the management and use of native forests for avalanche risk management.

Suggested Resources

  • The Rainforest Alliance and the World Cocoa Foundation have published “Climate-Smart Agriculture in Cocoa – A Training Manual for Field Officers”. The training manuals and materials are aimed at farmers in Ghana and gives them recommendations to mitigate the negative effects of climate change.
  • World Coffee Research, a collaborative non-profit research program, aims to enhance coffee production while improving the livelihoods of producers. Their library contains information on varieties, disease, climate change, etc.