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Amazon invests in the Amazon

Overhead shot of Amazon rainforest

Amazon is helping small family farms transition to agroforestry in the Amazon

Early this month, Amazon launched a regenerative agriculture and agroforestry accelerator to help farmers restore the company's namesake forest ecosystem, increase carbon removals and create income sources for farmers that encourages sustainable practices instead of ones based on environmentally harmful practices.  

The announcement came just a few days after Indigenous leaders from the Amazon Basin called for global action to protect the 80 percent of the Amazon, which they said is reaching the "point of no return," by 2025. The plea came during the IUCN World Conservation Congress, a conference held once every four years that brings together government, civil, business and academic decision-makers to work on solutions to global and climate challenges, and the proposal outlined a 13-point solution framework to achieve this goal. And a few days later the IUCN World Conservation Congress approved the proposal to come up for a vote.

The Amazon is one of the Earth's most vital resources to combat climate change, and it has already lost about 17 percent of its forest cover. If deforestation and degradation cross the 25 percent threshold, the entire ecosystem will collapse resulting in losing not only a habitat for 10 percent of the world’s species but also an important carbon sink sometimes referred to as the world’s lungs.  

Research shows that crossing the threshold is inching closer, and happening quickly. A new Nature study outlines that up to 40 percent of the Amazon could be lost due to fire and human-caused deforestation by 2050. In 2020 alone, at least 3.21 million acres of forests were lost, according to José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, lead coordinator of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Portuguese). The Peru-based organization fights for legal recognition for indigenous peoples and the protection of their territories. 

Amazon — the company this time, not the forest — partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to pay landowners and farmers for protecting and restoring their lands. The accelerator will support 3,000 local farmers with about 49,400 acres of land in Pará — an area with 9 percent of the world’s tropical rainforest and an outsized rate of deforestation. The region is losing 3,300 acres every day due to the slash-and-burn method of clearing forest for agricultural land, according to TNC. After three years of ramp-up, Amazon hopes to be removing up to 10 million metric tons total of carbon dioxide by a 2050 deadline. 

To do this, the tech company is creating a new revenue stream for farmers, by supporting their transition to agroforestry. Small family farms can enroll in the Agroforestry and Restoration Accelerator to help them convert 2 to 10 percent of their land.

In the future, Amazon hopes to create a carbon credit market for the farmers.

Amazon and TNC will provide experts to teach the farmers about agroforestry techniques and help them establish native tree seedlings and cocoa plants on the land. The cocoa plants will help create a new form of income via the accelerator’s connection to buyers. In the future, Amazon hopes to create a carbon credit market for the farmers. Amazon is also funding field technicians that will take samples and measure the rate of carbon sequestration; the data will later be independently verified.

TNC is also working with the World Agroforestry Centre to help farmers restore degraded cattle pastures to native forest and agroforestry. The goal is to create a strong and viable cocoa and carbon market that will outpace the other, less sustainable business models. 

With this launch, the e-commerce giant joins other companies such as General Mills, Danone Kering, L’Oreal, Nestlé and Procter & Gamble that are jumping on the trend of investing in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. Many of these companies are starting to think of agriculture as an extension of nature that can be cultivated sustainably, offering carbon sequestration benefits. Apple invested in restore mangroves because of their vast carbon removal potential and Amazon has previously invested in a domestic forest conservation project in the Appalachian Mountains,

But we will have to see what moves faster, sustainable changes at Amazon the company or destruction of the Amazon forest. 

[Continue the dialogue about net-zero commitments at VERGE Carbon, part of the VERGE 21 online event, Oct. 25-28.]

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