How Agribusiness is fueling the climate crisis in the Amazon

Clemence Abbes Agriculture, Climate Change

Over a year has passed since the world was shocked by the images of the fires blazing across the Amazon. While the world’s attention has moved on, the climate crisis in the Amazon continues – fueled largely by the unchecked expansion of agribusiness.  

The Amazon, with its millions of acres of tropical rainforests and savannah ecosystem, spans across several countries in South America including Peru, which has in recent years emerged as the next frontier for large scale commodity agriculture. The expansion of agribusiness in the Peruvian Amazon, however, is coming at a cost, wreaking havoc on forests and local communities and compounding the global climate crisis.  

Large-scale agribusiness has a large climate footprint  

A recent paper released by Oxfam in Peru quantifies the carbon loss caused by the oil palm plantations and a monoculture cocoa plantation in the Peruvian Amazon. Here are some startling facts:  

  • Over the last 20 years, close to 3 million metric tons of CO2 have been released from deforestation caused by palm oil crops in the region.
  • 45% of that CO2 comes from four large plantations.  
  • Another 83,782 hectares of primary forests could be lost if suspended and inactive agribusiness projects are allowed to go ahead.  
Large-scale agribusiness in the Peruvian Amazon | Links to the climate crisis

For Peru to achieve its stated climate ambition of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% by 2030, the government will need to double down on its efforts to tackle deforestation as 45% of GHG emissions in the country are associated with land-use change.  

Indigenous communities and environmental defenders at the forefront of the fight for climate justice

Large-scale agribusiness not only threatens forests, but also the communities that live there. The expansion of the agricultural frontier into the Amazon is often accompanied by land grabbing and land trafficking, and intimidation and violence against Indigenous peoples, local communities, and environmental defenders who speak up.   

As Melania Canales Poma from the Peruvian National Organization of Indigenous Women (ONAMIAP) has said 

“Agrobusiness destroy our forests, degrades our lands, endangers communities and their defenders, following the capitalist model that for decades has also violated our right to territorial governance.”  

Melania Canales Poma from the Peruvian National Organization of Indigenous Women (ONAMIAP)

In Santa Clara de Uchunya, Oxfam has been working with local partners to support the indigenous Shipibo community’s struggle against the destruction and conversion of their traditional lands and forests. Since 2013, their land has been parcelled out to land traffickers and passed on to a big palm oil company, unleashing a wave of deforestation resulting in the destruction of 11,000 hectares of pristine rainforest. 

Yet indigenous people and local communities are often the most effective stewards of forests and securing community land titles brings significant forest protection benefits. A study by the Amazon socio-environmental information network shows that indigenous territories and protected areas have the lowest carbon loss in the Amazonian region. Only 10% of all carbon losses that occurred in the Amazon between 2003 and 2016 occurred in those territories. 

Powerful agribusiness must be held accountable

Courts have an important role in holding powerful agribusinesses accountable for environmental crimes against the Amazon and its communities. 

Oxfam has supported legal action in two emblematic cases. In a landmark judgement in 2019, a company Cacao del Peru Norte S.A.C. (currently known as Tamshi S.A.C), was found responsible for large scale deforestation and violation of environmental regulations and fined 45million USD. Unfortunately, in a subsequent appeal in December 2020, the company was acquitted.  

In the province of Ucayali, Oxfam is supporting a lawsuit which has been initiated by the native community of Santa Clara de Uchunya against the company Ocho Sur P. SAC responsible for illegal land grabbing and deforestation. The community is now waiting for the Constitutional Court ruling. A ruling in favor of the community would also set an important legal precedent. Wider support from the global community can make a difference – add your voice here and demand justice for the communities in the Amazon.   

Governments and companies must step up to protect the Amazon

The urgency of the climate crisis requires action now to stop deforestation. Globally, 12% of GHG emissions come from deforestation and land use change that is primarily driven by large scale commodity agriculture. Protecting the world’s forests, especially the Amazon, is vital meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and must be a priority for governments and companies.  

So, what can they do to tackle agribusiness driven deforestation in the Amazon?

Large-scale agribusiness in the Amazon | Recommendations to face this driver of deforestation

Governments must regulate the expansion of large-scale agribusiness, strengthen land titling for rural and indigenous communities, and promote an ecologically balanced approach to the Amazon that supports food sovereignty for communities. In addition, as countries like Peru strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the run up to COP 26, they must include clear targets for demonstrating progress on curbing deforestation.  

Given the role of global agricultural supply chains in driving deforestation in the Amazon, companies must increase transparency in their supply chain and make a serious commitment to ensuring that the palm oil or cocoa they use do not come from illegally deforested areas. 

 A new vision for the Amazon is possible. It requires listening, strengthening the rights and giving justice to indigenous people and local communities. Governments, companies, courts as well as citizens and consumers must also step up to tackle the drivers of deforestation and safeguard these essential ecosystems for the sake of our climate and the future of the communities of the Amazon.  

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