Stopping Deforestation

To eliminate tropical deforestation from agriculture supply chains we collaborate with companies, governments, research institutes, and partner NGOs.

The unsustainable production of raw materials and ingredients found in many consumer goods such as food, cosmetics, shoes and handbags can have a direct impact on tropical forests, wildlife, and global climate. By working with companies and key stakeholders to develop and implement zero deforestation commitments, NWF’s cross-cutting strategies help ensure that the production of important agriculture commodities, including cattle, soy, palm oil, and biomaterials, does not jeopardize the fate of tropical forests and destroy critical wildlife habitat.

Market-Based Solutions: Leadership by Commodity


The Impacts of Tropical Deforestation

While the links between consumer products and tropical deforestation may not always be obvious, responsible action from consumers and companies can increase demand for zero deforestation products, which helps to safeguard forests and wildlife in the tropics and beyond.

Tropical forests are some of the most species-rich habitats on Earth. They also help regulate critical systems, such as regional rainfall patterns. In addition, forests maintain massive amounts of carbon storage, and help to moderate the effects of global climate change.

Currently, while deforestation in Brazil has been reduced significantly, there is still an annual loss of about 500,000 hectares. Many other countries are also experiencing significant forest loss. As a consequence, about 11% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributed to deforestation, and if emissions from agriculture were also included, this total loss attributable to land use (emissions from deforestation plus agriculture) would amount to about 25% of the world’s total GHG emissions.

The large scale loss of tropical forests can trigger significant impacts on local, regional and global communities. In the Amazon, deforestation has been linked to changes in average temperature and rainfall patterns. These impacts can extend beyond the Amazon to parts of the United States, particularly the coastal northwest and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where potential reductions in rainfall and snowpack have been linked to tropical deforestation in the Amazon. Some experts project substantial impacts on the productivity of these agriculturally important regions.

Deforestation in South America directly threatens migratory bird species that rely on the forest habitats of the Amazon, Cerrado and Gran Chaco, during the cold winter months in North America. Population declines among many migratory species have been linked, in part, to tropical deforestation and habitat destruction in their wintering grounds.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, the clearance and drainage of peatlands – swampy, waterlogged soils containing immense stores of carbon accumulated over millions of years – is particularly problematic because it releases carbon into the atmosphere in a manner which is very difficult to halt or reverse. Moreover, drained peatland is susceptible to burning, a real danger since fires are often set intentionally for land-clearance, which further releases carbon pollution. The resulting smoke and haze from these fires has also directly endangered human health as far away as Singapore and Thailand.

Cross-Cutting Strategies

Tropical forests provide critical habitat for wildlife and play a vital role in the regulation of local, regional, and global climate. NWF’s International Wildlife Conservation program works to eliminate tropical deforestation from major agriculture commodity supply chains, including cattle, soy, and palm oil products, and biomaterials. While each of these commodities poses its own set of unique challenges and opportunities, we employ similar cross-cutting strategies to decouple deforestation from the production of these agriculture commodities.

Commodity-driven deforestation has many complex and interconnected causes that involve different actors, so approaching the problem from multiple angles is essential to our success. To tackle each supply chain, we work through the relevant multi-stakeholder groups where our collective calls for change can be amplified. For each of these commodities, we work with the key companies which supply and purchase them, as well as the farmers and ranchers who produce them, and research institutes, government agencies and partner organizations.

We use science-based research to guide our engagement with companies, helping them to develop and implement zero deforestation commitments. We also advocate cutting edge practices to help farmers and ranchers increase productivity on their current land, instead of clearing forested areas for expansion. Working at each of these levels in the supply chain helps to ensure that the zero deforestation commitments made by companies are effective and long lasting.

To reinforce our commitment to zero deforestation, the National Wildlife Federation signed the New York Declaration on Forests at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit. This declaration brings together over 170 governments, multi-national companies, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples around a common goal – to eliminate deforestation from the production of agriculture commodities by 2020, and to end forest loss altogether by 2030. Coupled with the Declaration’s call for the restoration of 150 million hectares (375 million acres) of degraded lands, these efforts could reduce GHG emissions by up to 8 billion tons per year by 2030.

What You Can Do

Achieving fully verified zero deforestation production will require commitments and coordinated support from producers, traders, manufacturers and retailers, governments, banks, investors, and consumers. There are several ways that these supply chain actors can help ensure environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable agriculture in the tropics.

Consumers have tremendous leverage in the market. Through responsible purchasing choices, we can collectively contribute to protecting forests and the wildlife that depend on these important ecosystems. To make a difference, ask your preferred retailers and brands simple questions like:

  • Do you have a zero deforestation policy?
  • Does this policy cover all the major forest risk commodities (beef, leather, soy, palm oil, and biomaterials)?
  • How are you implementing your zero deforestation policy?
  • How do you make sure the raw materials in your products are not contributing to forest destruction?


Help support zero deforestation agriculture by taking your questions to social media and directing them towards your favorite supermarkets, department stores, clothing and fashion brands, and food and beverage brands.

Related Publications