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When you hear “outsourcing” we typically think of a manufacturer or retailer moving production overseas to lower production costs. However, an interesting paper published this week in Nature Ecology and Evolution highlights how everyday consumer purchases can have a drastic impact on tropical forests around the globe. 

We have written before how the supply chain for coffee and cacao can be convoluted due to the sea of middlemen and corporate opacity. In this paper, Nguyen Tien Hoang and his team use remote sensing data and analyze supply chains to quantify our impact on ecosystems around the globe.

Of the G7 countries, Japan, UK, France, Germany, and Italy 90% of their deforestation footprint is outside of their own country. As you can see in the graph below, the US still has plenty of forests of its own to clear cut so the domestic deforestation is higher than other countries.

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The deforestation footprint of a country is calculated by domestic deforestation coupled with deforestation caused by the production of imported goods. The imports that cause the most deforestation are beef, soy, coffee, cacao, palm oil, and timber and these exports are commonly found in biodiversity hotspots such as countries in the Amazon, the South Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa. 

This research may have been fueled by personal motives as the author, Nguyen Tien Hoang, grew up in Central Vietnam and witnessed the levelling of habitats in order to make room for a growing coffee demand from the United States, Germany, and Italy. We see this routinely with cacao as well. 

There are sustainable techniques in the coffee and cacao industry which include shade-grown coffee and cacao, organic production, and driving biodiversity within a plantation. Unfortunately, since the consumers in these G7 countries have a propensity for buying cheap coffee, you can guarantee the cheapest/easiest forms of agriculture and labour will be utilized. A number of initiatives have been formed to plant trees within a country to reduce their carbon/deforestation footprint but this is futile if the consumers are outsourcing their deforestation by buying unsustainable coffee and cacao.

The author uses China and India as a primary example of this. The data shows China and India have had a net increase in forest gains but have also increased the deforestation associated with their imports. The authors conclude the paper with a jarring statistic: “Consumption patterns of G7 countries drive an average loss of 3.9 trees per year per person”. This doesn’t sound like much when you think of just one person but the G7 countries includes every person from U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan. 

The authors also state the necessity for supply-chain transparency so surveys like this can be conducted with ease and there is a recurring theme throughout the paper that consumers should be more aware of their purchases. If the consumers don’t change, more money will need to be allocated to protect the tropical ecosystems around the globe.

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All photos from the original article.

Source: Hoang, N.T., Kanemoto, K. Mapping the deforestation footprint of nations reveals growing threat to tropical forests. Nat Ecol Evol (2021).

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