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Top food firms spot supply-chain risks to forests in real time

  • Michael Taylor

    Thomson Reuters Foundation

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia   /   Tue, June 11, 2019   /   06:36 pm
Top food firms spot supply-chain risks to forests in real time Piles of wood are seen during (Reuters/Bruno Kelly)

Food retailers and producers can monitor deforestation risks throughout their supply chains in real time using satellite images accessed via a new website, developers said on Tuesday.

Led by the Global Forest Watch team at the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI), the GFW Pro platform enables commodity producers and buyers, investors and green groups to act faster to protect forests.

More than 80 commodities companies and organisations are already using the website, including Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources, Louis Dreyfus Company, Mondelez, Olam, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

"It is globally applicable and works everywhere for any commodity," Luiz Amaral, a WRI director who co-led the project, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Now, if trees fall anywhere in the globe, everybody sees," he added. "There are no more excuses not to monitor."

Commodities that can be tracked include cocoa, sugar, rubber, timber, palm oil, soybeans and beef, WRI said.

Deforestation is a key driver of global warming, accounting for about 15 percent of emissions of heat-trapping gases, similar to the transport sector.

About 12 million hectares (29.65 million acres) of forest were lost in 2018, according to WRI, with almost 40% caused by land-clearing to produce commodities in countries like Brazil and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Using more than 30 data-sets including satellite images from U.S. space agency NASA and the European Space Agency, GFW Pro tracks and analyses plantations, farms, national parks and mills to pinpoint deforestation risks like fires and illegal logging.

Amaral said it would help corporate users - big and small - prioritise which suppliers to work with and set up programmes to tackle deforestation.

The real-time alerts can also warn plantation firms of fires on their concessions, he added.

"The GFW Pro system was developed so that any commodity company or financial institution can perform complex geospatial data analysis, without specialised staff or systems," said Jane Lloyd of WRI, who co-led the development of the project.

Palm oil, which is predominantly grown in Southeast Asia, is the world's most widely used edible oil, found in everything from margarine to cookies, and soap to soups.

The industry has come under unprecedented scrutiny in recent years by environmental activists and consumers, and has been blamed for deforestation, forest fires and worker exploitation.

But despite many big companies making pledges of "no deforestation" by 2020, at least 50 million hectares of forest – an area twice the size of Britain – was destroyed to produce commodities over the last decade, said a separate report from Greenpeace International on Tuesday.

"They've wasted a decade on half-measures and in that time vast areas of the natural world have been destroyed," said Anna Jones, head of Greenpeace UK's forest campaign.

"They should be in crisis talks ... but they're still trying to grow demand for products that will drive forest destruction even further."