A forester preparing his saw for cutting wood in Amazon forest in the State of Parâ, Brazil.
Photo: © FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Forests in the Global Bioeconomy

Policy-makers from Brazil, Uruguay and Indonesia discussed the role of forests in the global bioeconomy at a meeting in Bonn, Germany.

Bonn University’s Center for Development Research (ZEF) provided the venue for a meeting of policy-makers from Brazil, Uruguay and Indonesia in mid-October on the role of tropical forests and natural landscapes in the global bioeconomy. The event, organised by ZEF in co-operation with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), was aimed at identifying implications for policies towards sustainable bio-based transformation.

With 65 per cent of its territory covered by forests, Brazil has the second-largest forest area in the world, surpassed only by Russia. Natural forests account for more than 500 million hectares, and forest plantations for roughly 6.5 million hectares.

Pedro Alvez Corrêa Neto, Director, Development of Value Chains and Sustainable Production at Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, explained that in 2010, the country had launched its Low-Carbon Agriculture (ABC) in the framework of its national policy on climate change. The ABC Plan is a credit initiative providing loans for farmers to implement sustainable agriculture practices, including the integration of crops, livestock and forests. PLANAVEG, introduced by the government in 2017, is aimed at the restoration of native vegetation. Under PLANAVEG, Brazil seeks to achieve the recovery of at least twelve million hectares of native vegetation by 2030.

Neto stressed the role of investment in public research, infrastructure and monitoring achieving the goals of the new programmes. Collaboration in research and innovation, both on a North-South and a South-South scale, was vital in developing technologies optimising land use and achieving a sustainable development of agricultural systems.

“The bioeconomy has to be sustainable, both in economic, social and environmental terms,” emphasised Marcus Vinicius da Silva Alves, Director, Brazilian Forest Service, a unit of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment. “It is not part of business as usual.” Recognising land tenure rights was just as important a component of a new economy as innovative policies were. Further vital elements included research, training, information and communication. Transparency was key to success.

da Silva Alves stressed the goal of achieving sustainability of production and consumption with a science-based approach. He also assigned a major role to forests, noting that they were “the biggest, best and longest lasting asset for the bioeconomy”.

Agriculture, forests and climate change

Agricultural production and agroindustries account for more than 70 per cent of Uruguay’s total export earnings. Around 78 per cent of the country’s land area is devoted to pasture, and its extensive beef production earned 16 per cent of its exports in 2015. The second most important agricultural product is cellulose. Crops only play a small role in agriculture.

María Eugenia Silva of the Sustainability and Climate Change Unit at Uruguay’s Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries explained that the country’s National Biotechnology Plan, adopted in 2012, envisages a sustainable bioeconomy approach emphasising the quality of products and also active adaptation to climate change. Elements of the plan include value-chain efficiency, the restoration of ecosystem services and a soil conservation policy. It also focuses on grasslands restoration and the conservation of native forest land.

Silva noted that the implementation of the plan would create a number of win-win situations for the country. She stressed that forests were to play a greater role in sustainable livestock production. Incentives were being introduced for livestock farmers to increasingly assume stewardship of native woods. Non-wood production was also being promoted.

In 2015, Indonesia had a forest cover of 50.24 per cent, down from 65.44 per cent in 1990. Nur Hygiawati Rahayu, of Indonesia’s Ministry of National Development Planning, stressed the vital role of the country’s rainforests, but also noted that present total forest cover could be halved by 2045. In 2011, the government adopted a National Plan on Greenhouse Gas Emissions. It also recently launched a Low Carbon Development and Green Economy policy.

With its new policies, the country aims to reverse the decline of forest cover and achieve a number of other goals over the coming decades. By 2030, it seeks to establish the development of a forest-based bioeconomy development. By 2035, it is to provide the largest global market share of forest-based products. And by 2045, Indonesia hopes to supply the largest global market share of forest-based products.

Nur Hygiawati Rahayu emphasised that given the country’s scarcity of fossil fuels, transforming energy production to bioenergy was a viable alternative. Also, she stressed Indonesia’s efforts to adapt to and mitigate the effects of global climate change in the context of the REDD+ process. Public-private partnerships, technological clusters as well as forest-based cluster industries were to play a key role in future developments. The envisaged Forestry 4.0 initiative was to promote integrated information and communication systems in forest management.

Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany