May 10, 2023
Brainforest biodiversity systems mapping
This report is the result of a collaborative workshop which took place on April 19th 2023.
Special thanks to each of the participants who shared their inputs and to the co-writers of this written work: Camille Accolas, Fidel Chiriboga, Pierric Jammes and Katalin Hausel
Table of Contents
Systems mapping theory and value
Lack of support and legal structure
Lack of monitoring capabilities
Lack of education and technical training
Lack of monetary value for standing forests and new sustainable products
Lack of standardization and verification of biodiversity positive activities
Lack of infrastructure and accessibility 24
Conclusions and call for action
Appendix 1 & 2: Participant interviews & Extracts of original Mural maps
Appendix 3: Participant list from April 19th 2023 workshop
Brainforest, a Swiss tax-exempt association, is the world’s first for-impact venture studio for forests. We create scalable for-impact business models to generate income for local communities, enabling them to regenerate and protect biodiverse forests. In January 2023, Brainforest launched the Biodiversity Lab—co-founded by the Somaha Foundation—on a mission to monetize biodiversity in forests.
As part of this mission, Brainforest hosted a systems mapping workshop on April 19th, 2023. The workshop welcomed over 40 attendees, representing more than 8 stakeholder groups from all parts of Europe and South America, most specifically Peru. For a detailed overview, see the participant list in Appendix 3.
This executive summary presents the key findings and next steps resulting from Brainforest’s systems mapping workshop focused on the loss of biodiversity in the Peruvian Amazon. Brainforest conducted this workshop with stakeholders from various regions and backgrounds to understand the systemic elements contributing to biodiversity loss in Peru. The workshop aimed to identify leverage points for developing impactful solutions.
The report starts by explaining the importance of systems mapping in analyzing complex problems like biodiversity loss. It then presents an extract of the consolidated map generated from the workshop, showcasing the interconnected elements contributing to the issue. The main themes discussed and represented in the map include governance, livelihood, markets, finance, and knowledge.
Systems mapping theory and value
It is increasingly clear that the ecological crisis unfolding before humanity requires a different approach to problem-solving than merely tackling individual issues as they arise. The triple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and food security are deeply intertwined. They connect with social, economic, and political systems that perpetuate them. To truly address these challenges, we must understand the underlying structures and patterns that maintain their presence.
This understanding prompted Brainforest to adopt a systems-based approach to dissect the economic, political, and social systems surrounding rainforests. By doing so, we aim to identify areas of leverage where minor interventions can drive significant system shifts. Ideally, instead of perpetuating biodiversity loss, these systems would evolve to promote forest biodiversity.
Before initiating a call for new venture ideas, a comprehensive online system-mapping workshop was held. This workshop encompassed a diverse group, bringing together multiple stakeholders and perspectives.
Each individual develops a specific perspective influenced by their experiences and areas of expertise. Recognizing this, Brainforest aimed to gather a diverse array of stakeholders to examine the loss of biodiversity in Peru as comprehensively as possible.
During the first phase of the workshop, participants were grouped into eight teams. Within these groups, they discussed and shared crucial elements they deemed essential from their vantage points. These elements encompassed a range of factors such as actors, trends, beliefs, relationships, laws, policies, and more that contribute to the ongoing biodiversity loss.
In the subsequent phase, participants pinpointed the most pertinent themes and the associated elements. They then began mapping the cause-and-effect relationships among these elements.
In the workshop's concluding step, groups pinpointed potential leverage areas. These are zones where minimal interventions could instigate significant shifts in the system. The objective was to realign the system to transition from contributing to biodiversity loss to actively promoting biodiversity.
The following map is a distilled version of the comprehensive map crafted based on the discussions and collaborations during the April 19th workshop. This map will guide the discussion on key themes in the subsequent sections of this report. For an in-depth look at the complete map, please click here. Additionally, for the original workshop map content, refer to Appendix 2.
The key themes discussed below summarize some of the key points brought by group conversations during the mapping workshop. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it a representation of the full system dynamics. It does however bring forth the core themes, dynamics and complexities that were uncovered by the groups. Based on the consolidated map, the main themes that arise when analyzing the system of loss of biodiversity in the Peruvian Amazon are as follows: Governance, Livelihoods, Markets and Finance. Lack of knowledge is another key theme that appears in each of these themes as a transversal enabler of biodiversity loss.
Participants in the workshops identified weak or failing governance—both at a governmental level (national and regional) and at the community level—as a recurring enabler of biodiversity loss.
Inexistent or insufficient legislation in favor of forests and biodiversity
The most obvious and recurring observation was the inexistence or insufficiency of laws and norms in favor of forests and biodiversity. While most referred to the government level, where participants blamed a general lack of political will and courage to take decisions in favor of forests, it was also mentioned to be true at the level of communities, who, at the lower level of territorial organization, often also fail in taking communal decisions in favor of biodiversity.
A decisive component of policies affecting biodiversity and forest management resides in territorial management and land-use planning, considered to be deficient by many participants. In several regions indeed, there is either no territorial zoning to simply allocate land areas to a specific land-use, according to natural conditions, resources, and political guidance; or this land zoning is incomplete, not communicated, or simply not addressing the diversity and complexity of forest ecosystems and usages.
Access to legal, documented, and registered land tenure rights is also failing in many areas of the Amazon, where cadastral plans are inexistent, land titling campaigns delayed if not abandoned, and land titling processes so complex, bureaucratic, sometimes expensive and subject to corruption, that individuals willing to claim their rights on their land simply give up and prefer to rely on informal land rights recognition by the community.
Insufficient enforcement of existing legislation
Even in conditions where the legislation exist (clear land-use allocation, conflicts over registered land, registered concessions with specific land-use, etc.), there is also insufficient enforcement and control from the government (lack of resources, no interest in remote forest areas), resulting in local conflicts, spoliation, land trafficking and subsequent insecurity.
This deficient enforcement can be explained by a lack of dedicated resources from the state (missing budgets, police units, judges, courts), a lack of previous experience with environmental legislation enforcement (some of the land status are recent or recently used - e.g. forest concessions for conservation -and government has no previous experience with adequate enforcement processes and practices, or is even missing appropriate units e.g. environmental “police”, legal definition of “environmental infraction or crime”, etc.), but also a rampant corruption at all levels.
Failing democratic representation at community level
Governmental democratic organization is channeled more or less effectively down to the district level (country > region > province > district), where democratic representation (elected mayors) and processes exist and function to a certain extent. However, this democratic organization does not go all the way down to the lower community level, who suffer from the absence of democratic representation, an insufficient or non-existing communication with district municipalities, the absence of government planning and investment in the community organization, its territorial management, and the infrastructure development. A disconnection therefore exists between the government and the local remote communities, who, however, are at the very interface of forests, and who could and should be the main actors able to act (positively or negatively)on forest biodiversity. Most remote communities rely on a self-organization, informal and spontaneous processes of their own, do not have a shared community vision and plan, and have to deal with a complete absence of financing. If some manage to self organize themselves with success, others fail, leaving an open front to agents of disorder and deforestation described below.
Resulting disorder, sense of impunity, uncontrolled migration, land grabbing: As a result of both insufficient legislation, weak enforcement of existing ones, and insufficient community democratic empowerment, a general lack of territorial order leaves room to illicit trafficking (illicit crops, land trafficking, ..), uncontrolled migration with subsequent slash and burn agriculture, land appropriation by larger, richer players, making the most of the “blurriness” and sense of impunity that presides in remote areas of the Amazon. Always at the detriment of forests and existing communities.
Participants also tried to discern potential root causes of this failing governance.
Lack of a long-term vision
For different reasons, both politicians and community members seem to generally fail to have a long-term vision, yet a prerequisite to being able to consider and address forest and biodiversity topics.
Quite commonly, politicians are driven by the timeframe of their elected mandate, if not shorter, considering the recent political instabilities in Peru at all government levels, driving the replacement of elected politicians and their working teams even more frequently than what their mandate would dictate. All projects started by elected governments and politicians are therefore short-term oriented, limited to a couple years, without any follow- up or monitoring strategy for the medium or long term. Such projects only focus on direct visible actions (e.g. tree seedlings distributed), without addressing the essential topics of capability development, transfer of know-how to the communities, switch in cultural mindset and community empowerment, nor the more concrete topics of outputs and outcome monitoring over the long-term. Such projects are systematic failures.
As for community members, their priority is to ensure their subsistence on a daily basis. Basic living conditions are barely secured, some of them have to face insecurity from mafias and trafficking, and almost all rely for their subsistence only on a specific “cash crop”, illegal agriculture (e.g. coca), illegal logging, trafficking, artisanal mining, etc. With the absence of government or other players (such as committed buyers, market players, project developers, international NGOs) to support them, it is understandable that their main concern may not be the future of a tree in several decades (yet it is noticeable that many still do care about that, very aware of their dependance to the services provided by the forests).
The lack of long-term vision can even be extended to other international actors (such as aid agencies, NGOs, social investors) who don’t quite design their programs often enough on a long-term basis, driven by the requirement of short-term results to report to their donors, investors, etc.
Lack of a forest culture
Ultimately, participants to the workshop suggested a more deeply rooted reason for the failing governance in the Amazon regions may come from a general lack of forest culture, that would impregnate everything, from political decisions to every citizens’ mindsets. For most deciders, and the majority of Peruvian, who live on the coast, the forest is “invisible”, hidden behind the Andes. It is supposedly a remote territory, not well known, disregarded by the people living in the richer coastal (and to a lesser extent, andean) cities. Many politicians in Lima have not traveled to the Amazon, and do not show proper interest for that region.
Additionally, Peru is a country whose national pride and narrative has mostly been built around the richness of its extractive (mining) resources, history (Inca civilization and others) tourism, and more recently its culinary culture. But there is an almost complete lack of narrative around forests, their richness and value for the people and the country as a whole. There may even be a “negative” narrative built around the supposedly “savage” tribes of the Amazon, by opposition of which the modern development of the country should occur.
As a result, neither politicians nor citizens, even those of the Amazon regions, have been “taught” to value the Amazon and more generally the forests as something important, alive, essential for the country as a whole as well as for every citizen.
In regions or localities where basic services such as health care, water, electricity and other infrastructure elements are not available, this lack of basic standing grounds dictate what activities have priority for local stakeholders. As expressed during the workshop, it is difficult to engage in biodiversity-positive activities when basic infrastructure is lacking, which means that people are already limited in terms of what they possibly could engage with. Poor quality of life can lead to rather desperate activities, for example short-term solutions for income generation, unsustainable land use that promote biodiversity loss, and invasions by people groups in otherwise protected or managed areas where regulations are no longer possible. This is obviously linked to population growth, migration processes and social development at local, regional and national levels.
Criminality and impunity
Poor life quality has been mentioned to lead to criminality in the local-stakeholders’ regions, which is worsened when the lack of effective regulating or controlling work by the state creates impunity for criminal acts. Work with biodiversity is then further incompatible with coping with this, when threats, fear and consequences of mafias and criminals are present, and when governments, as discussed above, are not able to be effective enough to provide and secure life quality. The vulnerability to criminality varies across social groups, as some of them can withstand it more than other less empowered or even targeted ones. Examples of this are gender imbalances, where female, which otherwise are a crucial, necessary element within biodiversity-positive
work, fear or are victims of human rights violations and even sexual abuse. This concern was clear within one of the discussions, and it makes it clear that the already present gender imbalance becomes stronger as a result of other negative social processes, and thus become a limitation to generating and developing best practices forward.
Changes in social demography and differences in socio-economic development at local, regional, national and international levels lead to another topic of focus by the workshop participants: Migration. As many other elements, how this acts as an enabler or inhibitor of biodiversity loss is context dependent. Migration occurs both from out of the system (people leaving the landscapes) as the opposite (people entering the landscapes from outside). To differentiate their directions, in this report we will mention them as emigration and immigration respectively. Immigration into the system can bring experts, researchers, innovators and other biodiversity-positive stakeholders from other cities and countries, creating local and regional hubs for nature and society positive projects. Simultaneously, immigration also brings other social groups rather interested or attracted by other activities e.g. unsustainable agriculture, mining, or other societal activities that enable biodiversity loss. Emigration has also an ambiguous effect on biodiversity loss, as this means the loss of local knowledge from the system, and opened accessibility to new, replacing stakeholders. The replaced demography can engage in biodiversity positive as well as negative activities independently of how the system was established before these migration processes.
As the majority of the biodiversity loss in forests occur from unsustainable land-use (agriculture mainly) and extractive practices (logging, hunting, etc.), a major inhibitor of biodiversity loss resides in the development of “sustainable” productive value chains that would produce and market products having a positive impact on the forest biodiversity (ideally net positive, at least compared to the baseline). This can typically be overlooked: non-timber forest products are unexploited or undervalued, “traditional” crops of local consumption (e.g. nuts, tropical fruits, tubers, etc.) are not valued in the national or the international market, and “standard” commodities exported today however produced more sustainably and in a respectful way of forests.
There are major constraints though to the development of such virtuous supply chains.
First, farmers are subject to what the market dictates. Out of economic interest, they will produce the crops that are most demanded, valued, and exported, and generally in a way that is dictated by the international demand and the value chain players (traders, buyers). This means, today, a generally low level of sustainability requirements.
Poorly traced and unsustainable international commodities supply chains.
International commodities supply chains of large volumes are generally poorly traced, rather opaque, and volumes are consolidated before reaching the final product manufacturer / reseller abroad, complexifying the traceability of products and reducing the final buyer’s sense of responsibility.
Having positive impact on forest biodiversity in such supply chains could mean:
having cuntries or private multi- stakeholder platforms by commodity (e.g. cocoa initiative, coffee platforms, palm oil),
establishing stricter industry standards and norms (e.g. deforestation-free sourcing, prohibition of certain chemicals, regenerative agricultural practices - such as agroforestry, soil conservation, organic, etc),
reinforcing the traceability of products across the supply chain (possibly using new technologies for transparency), especially at the farm level, specifically looking out at deforestation practices,
stimulating consumers awareness and requirements on sourcing and agricultural practices and their impacts.
it is to be noted that none of these leverages lies in the hands of the local farmers but all in the buyers’ and consumers’. Even for the most common added-value mechanisms such as “organic or fair trade certifications”, they always require a certain level of maturity, knowledge,and technicity for the producers to be able to access them. Which, without external support, they often lack.
Difficulty to develop new supply chains for low impact or biodiversity-positive crops
September Spin-off Bites 2023
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