Research project by Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN)
Terms of reference: Rainforest loss and impact on agricultural outputs in Brazil
Research project supervisor at RFN: Anders Krogh, Senior Significance of Rainforests Adviser.
About Rainforest Foundation Norway
RFN is a Norwegian NGO established in 1989 with a mission to secure the long-term conservation of the world’s large contiguous tropical rainforests and protect the human rights of the people who live in and of these forests directly.
The world loses between 3 and 4 million hectares of tropical rainforest every year, of which approximately one-third is lost in Brazil alone. Most is due to agricultural expansion, with beef production being the by far largest contributor in the Brazilian Amazon.
The loss of tropical rainforest has well-known global consequences: Contribution to global warming, disruption of large-scale weather patterns, and loss of diversity of life and genetic pools. However, a growing body of evidence shows there are also significant changes to the local and regional climate and weather patterns of the Brazilian Amazon and that this can to a large degree be directly attributed to the massive loss of rainforest in the region over the past few decades. The dry season in southern Amazon has been prolonged by about 1 month since the 1970s. Evapotranspiration has been reduced by 15 % - 40 % in the dry season, and humidity levels in the atmosphere above the Amazon have consistently decreased over the past 20 years. Consequently, the Amazon is also getting warmer. One study estimates that by the year 2100 the average temperature increases in the Amazon due to deforestation alone is comparable to that which is predicted under the worst global warming scenario.
Studies show this is already affecting the forest ecosystem in parts of the Amazon, with dry-affiliate tree species increasingly dominating. The renowned scientists Thomas Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre argue the southern Amazon has already reached environmental tipping points. So, the direct effect of deforestation on local and regional climates and weather patterns is real and present. It can only get worse if deforestation continues, and restoring large areas of the forest on previously deforested lands seems crucial for securing the biome and restore the local and regional climate and weather patterns.
Still, the scientific literature on how deforestation-induced drying and warming of the local and regional climate and disruption of weather patterns in the Brazilian Amazon already have affected agricultural outputs and how large-scale reforestation of the Amazon in turn can benefit future agricultural production seems sparse. One study suggests there is on average a 0,5 % reduced yield productivity for every 1 percentage point of deforestation in the tropics. Another study points out that “widespread deforestation results in a hydrological and economic negative-sum game (in the Amazon)”, because lower rainfall and agricultural productivity at larger scales outdo local gains. The same study estimates that curbing deforestation in southern Brazilian Amazon would prevent agricultural losses in the region of 1 billion USD annually.
The objective of this research is to investigate how the local and regional deforestation-induced climate changes and weather disruptions have already affected agricultural outputs in Brazil over the past few decades and how this has spilled over to the local, regional, and national economy. Also, the study should evaluate how large-scale reforestation of the Amazon could benefit agricultural production in the future through restoring the local and regional climate and weather patterns.
The purpose of this research project is to produce reliable scientific grounds for effective advocacy arguments for urgent introductions of policies and actions in the Brazilian agricultural sector that could lead to both stopping the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon and restoring the forest on large areas that today are either barren land or under some kind of agricultural use.
Use of the research
The findings and outcomes of this research project will serve various purposes and stakeholders, contributing to a better understanding of the relationship between deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and its impacts on agricultural production and revenues.
Public policy: One important application of this research is to inform policy development and decision-making at local, regional, and national levels. The research findings will provide policymakers with valuable insights into the consequences of Amazon deforestation on agricultural production in Brazil and on the benefits of stopping deforestation and reforest sufficient land to restore the climate.
Inform Investment Decisions: Guide investors and businesses to make informed decisions about investments in the agriculture sector, accounting for both the short-term and long-term risks associated with deforestation and on the opportunities that lies in restoring the local and regional climate through reforestation.
Advocacy: RFN and other advocacy organizations and environmental groups will use this research to raise awareness and advocate for the adoption of conservation policies and practices that will both stop and significantly reverse the deforestation caused by the agricultural sector in Brazil. Conservation policies and practices should consequently stabilize the valuable Amazon ecosystem and the climate it produces and relies on and thus ensure the environmental conditions that are necessary for sustained agricultural activity.
Highlight Ecosystem Services: The research will emphasize the value of intact forest ecosystems in the Amazon region in providing essential services to the agricultural sector through the production of precipitation and cooling of the local/regional climate, and by minimizing events of extreme flooding, plagues, and droughts.
Support Sustainable Practices: The research will encourage the adoption of agricultural practices that are compatible with both halting the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and restoring large areas previously occupied by agriculture. This would both eliminate the short and long-term negative impacts of further deforestation on agricultural production and restoring the local and regional climate so that it is more favorable for agricultural productivity.
The following questions form the foundation for the research project, guiding the collection of data, analysis, and the development of recommendations to demonstrate the critical link between deforestation-induced local/regional climate changes and weather disruption and agricultural outputs in the Brazilian Amazon and beyond.
- How has deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon:
- Impacted the local and regional climate and weather patterns over the past few decades (exact period to be defined in the inception phase)?
- Induced hazardous environmental changes, like increased and more severe flooding, droughts and plagues over the past few decades?
- How have the changes described in question 1 impacted:
- Agricultural productivity in the Brazilian Amazon and beyond over the past few decades?
- The local, regional and national economy in Brazil over the past few decades?
- What are the potential future benefits of stopping deforestation and large-scale reforestation (scale of reforestation to be identified in inception phase) of the Brazilian Amazon for agricultural outputs and the local, regional, and national economies?
This research will adopt a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative and qualitative techniques to provide a holistic understanding of the issue.
Climate data, including temperature, precipitation, and weather patterns, will be collected from reliable sources such as meteorological stations and databases. Historical weather data for the study region will be analyzed to identify trends and variations in climate variables.
Data on agricultural production, including crop yields and livestock statistics, will be obtained from government agencies, agricultural cooperatives, and local farmers' associations. Crop-specific data will be collected to assess the impact of climate change on different agricultural activities.
The research team will coordinate with small-scale and industrial farmers, livestock and agricultural associations, environmental organizations, and government bodies to ensure the project's success.
As the agricultural stakeholders can counteract unfavorable climatic changes to maintain and increase productivity by expanding their land on which they crow crops or livestock (e.g. more deforestation), it is the per hectare productivity that would have been affected by now more than the overall productivity.
Method components can include:
- Review of relevant existing reports and scientific literature.
- On-site field visits and surveys in selected regions of the Brazilian Amazon and other affected agricultural farms/areas.
- Stakeholder interviews, including farmers, meat-packers, local and regional authorities etc. Qualitative data from these interviews and surveys will be analyzed thematically to understand the perceptions, attitudes, and coping mechanisms of local communities and stakeholders in response to deforestation-induced climate change.
- Review historical data on annual livestock (beef) and yield production.
- Statistical analysis and modeling to establish relationships between deforestation-induced climate changes and agricultural productivity over the past decades and future predictions. Regression models and time series analysis will be employed to quantify the impact of deforestation on livestock and crop yields.
- Comparative Analysis: Compare areas with varying levels of deforestation and climate change impacts to identify differences in agricultural productivity.
- Explore how altered weather patterns and increased climate variability has impacted pasture quality, crop yields, soil quality, and agricultural practices in the Brazilian Amazon.
- Inception report, which should include:
- Outline of study (potentially with modifications of review questions).
- Methodology, including data sources, sampling, data collection tools and analyses, and list of people and organizations to be interviewed.
- Establish criteria for selection and identify the type of crops and livestock that shall be investigated under this research, including the geographical locations of the farms.
- Timeline, scope and delimitations.
- Detailed work plan, including composition of and distribution of responsibilities within the team.
- Identify which external expert/researcher to calibrate draft report with.
- Detailed budget.
- Draft report, which should present the initial findings for the review by and feedback from RFN. The draft report should be submitted shortly after the completion of data collection and initial analysis, with some time left for adjustments to the analysis.
- Expert calibration: The consultant shall share the draft report with at least one relevant expert/researcher for calibrating the methods used and main findings of the report. The consultant shall discuss the inputs from this calibration with RFN and make changes to the draft report if deemed necessary.
- A final report shall be presented to RFN after feedback has been received and integrated into the draft report. The report shall be in English and constitute a maximum of 40 pages, excluding annexes. It should contain at least the following sections (not exhaustive):
- Executive summary (max 4 pages).
- Introduction and context background.
- Description of the evaluation questions and methodology for data collection and analysis including scope, constraints, and limitations.
- Findings and conclusions.
- Maps, charts, and graphs illustrating deforestation-induced climate change trends and their impact on agricultural productivity.
- Presentations and workshops to disseminate research findings.
The research project is expected to be conducted over a period of 6 working months (including inception phase), with regular progress reports/updates and milestones. The frequency of progress reports will be determined in the inception phase.
Total: 70 k USD
A detailed budget plan shall be developed in the inception phase, covering expenses related to data collection, travel and fieldwork, research staff, equipment, and workshops.
Ethical considerations will be upheld throughout the research process, ensuring informed consent, confidentiality, and respect for the rights and privacy of participants. The assignment should be conducted in accordance with the highest professional standards. As such, the work will ensure sensitive, safe, non-discriminatory participation, confidentiality and anonymity of respondents. Specific consideration must be given to ethical issues of design, data collection, reporting and storage. The consultancy is obliged to maintain appropriate measures to protect personal data according to the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Info on GDPR can be found here: https://gdpr.eu