A new programme from the HCV Network empowers small farmers to embed ecosystem and biodiversity protection in their work

Tropical deforestation is usually associated with images of bulldozers making their way through large swathes of forests for large-scale plantations by big agribusinesses. Yet smallholders and small and medium enterprises also put pressure on forests by growing commodities and local food crops. Recently launched by the HCV Network, the Nature Positive Farming programme aims to help small farmers proactively address deforestation and ecosystem conversion, engaging smallholders on conversion frontiers to change their practices; this will help small farmers to be accepted by supply chains requiring them to work sustainably, and to limit the clearing of valuable ecosystems.

Globally, smallholders are responsible for 90% of rubber production and for up to half of the world’s palm oil production. Often, poor, small farmers face low productivity issues and practice extensive agriculture, clearing forests and other valuable ecosystems in constant search of new land to cultivate.

And while supply chain companies have been working to halt deforestation and boost responsible commodities’ production through certification, traceability, and supplier monitoring of their large, direct suppliers, they have not been able to effectively reach and engage independent smaller actors on conversion frontiers. This ultimately undermines companies’ need to demonstrate their sustainable supply chain when sourcing from smallholders.

Nature Positive Farming in a nutshell

Nature Positive Farming (NPF) is a participatory, flexible, rapid response solution for helping small farmers halt ecosystem conversion and maintain High Conservation Values, in line with company commitments and policies. NPF is most applicable to producers who are on conversion frontiers and are neither certified to a sustainability scheme or management units. It can be adapted to any agricultural commodity and in various regions. NPF is not a certification – it can work standing alone, it can be part of jurisdictional approaches or as a step towards certification. To work for smallholders, NPF is designed to be straightforward, and engagement-based, combining simplified HCV procedures with monitoring ecosystem maintenance over specific timeframes.

Training smallholders to identify which natural ecosystems and HCVs they should protect is central to NPF. The programme guides farmers to act with precaution regarding habitats, species, and ecosystem services. It equips them to identify new land for cultivation without loss of habitats, identify species that are threatened by agricultural encroachment and valuable ecosystem services that habitats such as peatlands or wetlands provide. Farmers under the NPF programme have ownership, understand the local impact of their crops and how they can mitigate them, make conservation commitments, and receive incentives and support to maintain and monitor the valuable habitats, species, and ecosystem services.

NPF benefits

By adapting precautionary practices to local contexts and knowledge together with smallholders, and by supporting plans for mitigation and monitoring, NPF can engage farmers in the long run, and bring benefits across commodities’ supply chains. NPF will increase collaboration between companies and their small suppliers and boost transparency of their operations and conservation efforts.

Rolling the NPF programme will require companies to work with representatives in the field – NGOs, civil society, etc – and further down the line with trainers who will support the farmers directly. In the first phase, farmers will make commitments for three years, during which NPF will implement improvements, boost awareness raising and build local leadership, while offering timely incentives to farmers.

“Addressing land clearing of intact high value ecosystems is complex and challenging, but provides greater benefits for biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. NPF is a simple tool to halt conversion by supporting smallholders take conservation decisions based on informed consent, and drive continuous improvement,” says Olivia Scholtz, senior project manager at HCV Network.”  

With investment from the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)the first NPF pilot will be ran with oil palm smallholder producers in the district of Siak Pelalawan, Indonesia, as part of the Siak Pelalawan Landscape Programme (SPLP), a private sector-driven initiative to promote sustainable palm oil production in two districts in Riau Province, Indonesia.

At the end of 2020, The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Forest Positive Coalition offered collective financial support to the SPLP as part of its landscape engagement strategy, which  seeks to support important forest conservation and community engagement work at the local level that will drive help positive change towards a forest positive future.

"CGF Forest Positive Coalition members recognise that to improve realities on the ground we need to go beyond our own individual supply chains and work together at a landscape level with relevant stakeholders. We are pleased to support through our first collective investment to enable the continuation and expansion of the important work of the Siak Pelalawan Landscape Program."  - Natasha Schwarzbach, Global Sustainable Commodities, PepsiCo, and Anna Turrell, Head of Environment, Tesco, the two Co-leads of the Coalition's Landscape Engagement Working Group

There is an ever-increasing urgency to address the on-going conversion by smallholders on the frontiers of intact ecosystems as part of nature and forest positive global ambitions.

NPF provides an operational tool for companies and initiatives to connect with smallholders who are still marginalised from sustainability supply chains; building farmer capacity and the business case for sustainable production while actively halting further ecosystem loss.