EU Deforestation Regulation: smallholders hope that help is on its way

14 September 2023

EU Deforestation Regulation: smallholders hope that help is on its way

The governments of tropical forest countries affected by the new EU Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) – Brazil, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, among others – have made no secret of their opposition to the rules intended to eliminate deforestation from the EU supply chain, describing the Regulation as “an affront” to international trade, discriminatory and unilateral. Lately, protection of smallholder interests is being invoked, arguing that the EUDR’s requirements are too burdensome. Small producers and family farmers in these same countries view the EUDR more hopefully, emphasising the chance for positive change: if implemented equitably, its requirements could protect sustainability and help them defend smallholder interests too often bulldozed by larger commercial enterprises.

Large agro-industrial companies typically do not wish to cooperate with smallholders, SPKS (Indonesian Palm Oil Farmer’s Union) points out. Small producers are forced to accept underpayment or to sell cheaply to middlemen, crowded out of market access, left vulnerable to abuse and far too commonly subject to violence. Government responses to these threats are typically inadequate, ranging from indifference to smallholder issues, to complicity with powerful commercial interests.

Claudelice Silva dos Santos is a member of traditional forest community from Brazil whose livelihood depends on sustainable forest farming. She takes issue with alarmist statements that the EUDR could be “catastrophic for global trade” and may cut off small producers. This minimises the global climate and biodiversity catastrophes already underway, and the catastrophic violence (FW 252; FW 267) that too frequently accompanies agricultural expansion (including her own murdered brother and sister-in-law). She challenges the Centre’s legitimacy in speaking for small farmers and diverse communities. To claim that poverty causes deforestation is victim-blaming, she feels, and the EUDR will help stem the violence, impunity and forced impoverishment of Indigenous communities who act as nature’s stewards.

Dinamam Tuxá, a member of a Brazilian Indigenous community, would agree. “For us, EU law is more than welcome: it is a hope of protection of our territories, our mode of production and our own existence.” He applauds that the law tackles deforestation from the demand side, and sees its potential to bolster President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s own efforts to address deforestation. Tuxa says he EUDR’s main shortcoming it that it fails to extend similar protections to other threatened biomes, driving the threat towards the ‘upside-down forest’ that is the Cerrado. For him, opposition to the EUDR serves only to protect the minority who engage in illegality.

Small producers and communities hope the EUDR will improve corporate and social justice, and pressure their governments to tackle problems that have hindered progress for years. Indonesian, Ghanaian and Côte d’Ivoire family farmers addressed a letter to EU Institutions welcoming the EUDR and expressing their full support for particular requirements that could help ensure a decent living for small farmers.

Specifically, EUDR traceability and geo-location requirements could simplify complex supply chains, and encourage respect for agreed purchasing prices; digitisation could entail fewer intermediaries along the chain, making small farmers and cooperatives less vulnerable to attacks during harvest. For instance, in Côte d’Ivoire, small farmers welcomed such transparency in cocoa origins, and hope that the EUDR will accelerate authorities’ roll out of the national cocoa traceability system undertaken in 2014, encourage the government to remedy non-payment of sustainability premiums, and address illegal production in protected forests.

These small producers point to targeted actions the EU could take to strengthen EUDR implementation, including by:

  • Conducting a timely review of EUDR impacts on smallholders and carrying out needs assessments.
  • Ensuring small producers’ have direct access to the market, for instance through quotas, special tariffs or special market platforms.
  • Taking pragmatic measures to defend small farmers’ living wages – in the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, for instance.
  • Targeting technical and financial support towards smallholder compliance.

As the details of EUDR implementation and companies’ mitigation obligations are ironed out, smallholders and communities remind the EU that, together, many drops make a mighty river, and that the engagement of small producers could be key to combatting deforestation.

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