Mailing: 9 March 2012

Amazonian deforestation: agricultural exports, cattle, soy and timber interactions

This article in Science Daily is based on materials prepared by the French Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)  It argues that Brazil’s reliance on agricultural exports to drive economic growth is environmentally unsustainable and highlights the link between deforestation for cattle grazing, soy production on cleared land which pushes cattle further into the forest, and the sale of high value timber.  The article states that government controls introduced from the year 2000 have scaled down deforestation from around 20,000 to 6,000 km² per year, but the threat of an increase in world demand is always just over the horizon, with implications for further deforestation.

You can read the Science Daily article here.

The IRD’s materials are here.

Note that China is now the world’s biggest buyer of Brazilian soy.  The Nature Conservancy has published a report on the Brazil-China soybean trade – ref: Brown-Lima C, Cooney M and Cleary D (undated) An overview of the Brazil-China soybean trade and its strategic implications for conservation. The Nature Conservancy, Latin America
The report finds that “China’s demand for Brazilian soybeans has expanded, is expanding, and will expand. Much of that demand has been and will be  met from the state of Mato Grosso, an agricultural powerhouse that also contains large areas of intact and highly biodiverse forests and grasslands. It is important to ensure, in containing the environmental impacts of soy in the Amazon, that pressure for habitat conversion is not simply displaced to the Cerrado.” The report also says “It is encouraging to see that under all the scenarios projected in this report, expansion in demand from China for soy in Mato Grosso over the next decade can easily be met through converting pasture to cropland,” but it doesn’t seem to consider the implications of that conversion for the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere.

Carbon footprint of Scottish mussels and oysters

The Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum has published a study on Scottish produced suspended mussels and intertidal oysters.

SARF (2011). Carbon Footprint Of Scottish Suspended Mussels And Intertidal Oysters, Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum ISBN: 978-1-907266-44-7

The study considered the cradle-to-gate impacts of the shellfish, from spat collection in the case of mussels, and hatching in the case of oysters, through  growing, harvesting, depuration, and packing ready for dispatch.  To illustrate the carbon impacts of the full life cycle, a scenario is included that,  based on various assumptions, illustrates the potential impacts of distribution, retail, consumption and disposal of the shells. 

In addition to the main scope of the study, the capture and sequestration of  carbon in the shells was also assessed.  The purpose of this was to provide background information for discussions regarding the potential benefits secured in terms of affects on carbon sinks and the possibility of the award of carbon credits in the future.

Based on the various assumptions, the cradle to grave carbon footprint is calculated to be 649 kg CO2-eq per tonne of mussels harvested and 1,685 kg CO2-eq per tonne of oysters harvested. This does not consider any carbon sequestered. Including carbon sequestration in the harvested shellfish, the cradle to grave carbon footprint is calculated to be 430 kg CO2-eq per tonne of mussels harvested (418 if including carbon sequestered in mussels dying at sea and sinking to the seabed) and 1,244 kg CO2-eq per tonne of oysters harvested.

For mussels, this amounts to 0.324 kg CO2-eq per 500 g serving of mussels (edible content 112 g), and if including sequestration, 0.215 kg CO2-eq per serving.

For oysters, this amounts to 0.726 kg CO2-eq per half dozen serving of oysters (edible content 440 g), and if including sequestration, 0.532 kg CO2-eq per serving.

This diagram shows the contribution that different stages (based on certain assumptions) makes to the overall footprint of the mussels and oysters.

And this one compares the carbon footprint of oysters and mussels with that of other animal-derived protein sources.

Report: CSR and supply agreements in the agricultural sector

The CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) programme have published a new report that looks at the role and effectiveness of private sector CSR activities in the agricultural sector.

Reference and details as follows:

Kissinger G. (2012). Corporate social responsibility and supply agreements in the agricultural sector Decreasing land and climate pressures. CCAFS Working Paper no. 14. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark. Available online at:

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and supply agreements in the agricultural sector have a significant role to play to promote agricultural climate change mitigation and decrease pressure on the earth’s land and climate. Private sector engagement can also promote food security and positively affect the livelihoods of smallholder agricultural producers in developing countries. 

Emissions along the supply chain often represent an agribusiness brand manufacturer’s biggest greenhouse gas impacts—in some cases representing as much as 90% of the emissions profile.  While companies that identify high-risk agricultural raw materials in their supply chain, set aggressive time-bound targets and goals for their sourcing and supply arrangements are at the forefront of corporate leadership in this area, the gap between the leaders and the rest of the industry may be great.

Based on a comprehensive literature survey and 15 interviews with key organizations, companies and financiers or lenders, the new CCAFS working paper, investigates:

  • Current private sector climate change mitigation activities in agriculture and food production, highlighting current innovations affecting production and supply chains of key commodities;
  • How CSR and supply chain commitments can improve their contribution to reductions in agricultural GHG emissions;
  • The role of governments, finance and investment in promoting sustainability in the agricultural sector.

Two themes emerged as areas for future focus: a) the need for harmonization among product standards, certification and by commodity roundtables, and b) the need to mainstream sustainability criteria in agricultural finance and lending activities.

In more detail, the report concludes that there is a strong need for:

  • Harmonization among product standards, certification and by commodity roundtables,
  • Mainstreaming sustainability criteria in agricultural finance and lending activities.
  • Supply chain interventions that hold potential to shift entire supply chains and value chains.
  • Tangible outcomes by industry-led initiatives that directly link retailers, manufacturers and suppliers, such as the Consumer Goods Forum, for wider sectoral engagement around key commitments (such as zero net deforestation and fulfilling purchasing commitments of certified high-risk agricultural raw materials).
  • Promotion of traceability for certified products, support systems throughout the supply chain, and further strategies for engaging traders and processors and importantly, growers.

For more about CCAFS see here.

The Water Footprint of Humanity

This paper finds that a. agriculture is overwhelmingly the largest user of global water out of all human activities, b. production for exports accounts for a fitth of humanity’s water footprint, c. developed countries have on average a higher footprint than developing countries but there is huge variation in the footprint of developing countries, d. a country’s water footprint is a consequence both of agricultural production practices (itself reflecting use of irrigation and natural climatic conditions – ie. rainfall and efficiency of water use) and consumption habits (demand for water hungry foods).  Overall, it finds that wheat production is globally the largest water user, followed by meat although it is not clear from the study whether water use for meat includes the embedded water in feed crop production.

Reference: Hoekstra A Y and Mekonnen M M (2012). The water footprint of humanity. PNAS,109, 9, 3232-3237


This study calculates and maps humanity’s green, blue and grey water footprint at a high spatial resolution. The study reveals how different products and nations contribute to freshwater consumption and pollution across the globe. The findings may help governments to establish commodity production and consumption policies aimed at managing the planet’s finite freshwater supplies more effectively.

This study quantifies and maps the water footprint (WF) of humanity at a high spatial resolution. It reports on consumptive use ofrainwater (green WF) and ground and surface water (blue WF) and volumes of water polluted (gray WF). Water footprints are estimated per nation from both a production and consumption perspective. International virtual water flows are estimated based on trade in agricultural and industrial commodities. The global annual average WF in the period 1996–2005 was 9,087 Gm3∕y (74% green, 11% blue, 15% gray). Agricultural production contributes 92%. About one-fifth of the global WF relates to production for export.The total volume of international virtual water flows related to trade in agricultural and industrial products was 2,320 Gm3∕y (68% green, 13% blue, 19% gray). The WF of the global average consumer was 1,385 m3∕y. The average consumer in the United States has a WF of 2,842 m3∕y, whereas the average citizens in China and India have WFs of 1,071 and 1,089 m3∕y, respectively. Consumption of cereal products gives the largest contribution to the WF of the average consumer (27%), followed by meat (22%) and milk products (7%). The volume and pattern of consumption and the WF per ton of product of the products consumed are the main factors determining the WF of a consumer. The study illustrates the global dimension of water consumption and pollution by showing that several countries heavily rely on foreign water resources and that many countries have significant impacts on water consumption and pollution elsewhere.


The study shows that about one-fifth of the global WF in the period 1996–2005 was not meant for domestic consumption but for export. The relatively large volume of international virtual water flows and the associated external water dependencies strengthen the argument to put the issue of water scarcity in a global context. For governments in water-scarce countries such as in North Africa and the Middle East, it is crucial to recognize the dependency on external water resources and to develop foreign and trade policies such that they ensure a sustainable and secure import of water-intensive commodities that cannot be grown domestically. The water footprint of Chinese consumption is still relatively small and largely internal (90%), but given the country’s rapid growth and the growing water stress (particularly in North China), the country is likely to increasingly rely on water resources outside its territory, evidenced by China’s policy already today to buy or lease lands in Africa to secure their food supply.

The global average WF related to consumption is 1,385 m3∕y per capita over the period 1996–2005. Industrialized countries have WFs in the range of 1,250–2,850 m3 ∕y per capita, whereas developing countries show a much larger range of 550–3,800 m33y per capita. Two factors determine the magnitude of the WF of national consumption: (i) the volume and pattern of consumption and (ii) the WF per ton of consumed products. The latter, in the case of agricultural products, depends on climate, irrigation, and fertilization practice and crop yield. The small WF values for developing countries relate to low consumption volumes; the large values refer to very large WFs per unit of consumption. Detailed water footprint data as provided in this paper will help national governments understand to which extent the water footprint of national consumption relates to inefficient water use in production and to which extent it is inherent to the existing national consumption pattern. Thus it helps governments that strive toward more sustainable water use to prioritize production policies (aimed to increase water use efficiency) versus consumption policies (aimed to influence consumption patterns so that inherently water-intensive commodities are replaced by commodities that require less water).

The study provides important information on the WFs of nations, disaggregated into the type of WF (green, blue, or gray) and mapped at a high spatial resolution. This paper shows how different products and national communities contribute to water consumption and pollution in different places. The figures can thus form an important basis for further assessment of how products and consumers contribute to the global problem of increasing freshwater appropriation against the background of limited supplies and to local problems of overexploitation and deterioration of freshwater bodies or conflict over water. Once one starts overlaying localized WFs of products or consumers with maps that show environmental or social water conflict, a link has been established between final products and consumers on the one hand and local water problems on the other hand. Establishing such links can help the dialogue between consumers, producers, intermediates (like food processors and retailers), and governments about how to take and share responsibilities to reduce the WFs where most necessary.

The supplementary info provides more detailed data including a breakdown of  blue water use by individual countries.

You can download the paper itself as well as the supplementary material (both open access) here.

Job: Senior/Principal Research Fellow - Natural Resources Management and Innovation

The Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich ( is seeking to recruit a Senior/Principal Research Fellow within its Livelihoods and Institutions Department.  The successful candidate will expand the NRI’s capacity in research and consultancy on natural resource management in developing countries, including work on agricultural innovation, institutional analysis and capacity-building.  Particular consideration will be given to candidates with dual qualifications, or substantial experience, in both social and agricultural/environmental sciences.

Salary: in the range £35,938-£52,706 per annum

Closing date: 14th March 2012

For more information, see here.

New Al Jazeera series on environmental solutions

Starting on March 30th, earthrise takes an upbeat look at ecological, scientific, technological and design projects all around the world, from a farm in Australia growing low impact crops using sea water and solar power, to an ingenious project that has dramatically cut rhino poaching on a South African game reserve.

earthrise will be broadcast from 30th March 2012 on Al Jazeera English and at The first series was broadcast last year is online. Follow us on twitter @AJEarthrise

Danish sugar tax proposal

This article in the Copenhagen Post covers reactions to the Danish government’s proposal to tax sugar  in a manner similar to last year’s introduction of a saturated fat tax.

For more on fat taxes on the FCRN website see here (Hungarian fat tax), here (French soda tax) and here (Danish fat tax).