Resilience Dispatch #4: Connecting the dots: Communities, food systems, forests, and climate in the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic; The “Amazon Strategy” for Supply Chain Resilience

Apr 15, 2020

Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, chef and owner of Malabar and Ámaz restaurants in Lima, Peru, gets a very close look at a paiche fish on a trip with Forest Trends and partners in the Peruvian Amazon, part of a project building “Rainforest to Table” value chains for Amazonian ingredients.

In this edition

Connecting the dots: Communities, food systems, forests and climate in the time of COVID-19

Michael Jenkins

The coronavirus pandemic will cause famines of “biblical proportions” in dozens of countries this year, as the head of the World Food Programme told the UN Security Council last week.

We’re seeing supply chains break down, while foreign aid dries up. More than a billion people could face food shortages by the end of 2020.

If you are able to give to those in need, please do so now. The World Food Programme, World Central Kitchen, and Action Against Hunger are all worthy organizations.

In the long term, as we rebuild from the pandemic, we must find ways to create more resilient supply chains and food systems. The coronavirus crisis in some ways is an intensified dress rehearsal for the kinds of shocks that are expected under a changing climate.

A key place to focus efforts will be the Amazon. The global supply chains that connect us to this forest system are mostly based on destruction. Forests are being cut for cattle ranching, soy, logging, and other agriculture. Deforestation in the Amazon has jumped 300% last year and has actually accelerated over the last two months.

What a waste. The Amazon forest holds more than 40,000 species of plants, at least 3,000 species of fish, and 3,000 kinds of fruit. A few products with Amazonian origins are valued worldwide – cocoa, vanilla, chili peppers, and cassava – and a few have emerged in recent years in global consumer markets, like açai berries and Brazil nuts. The region still holds the world’s largest undiscovered cornucopia of new foods.

It is also a priceless living pharmacy. Most of today’s pharmaceuticals are derived from natural plant extracts – at least 25 percent of modern medicines trace their roots to an estimated 50,000 medicinal plants, only a fraction of which had been studied in labs before commercial use.

We are in danger of trading these treasures for some beef and soy, which could be produced on existing farmland far more sustainably. It’s as if we were handed the keys to the Library of Alexandria and decided to use its manuscripts to burn for heating.

The indigenous communities we’ve been working with for years are suddenly facing critical shortages of food and medical supplies. As we rebuild post-pandemic, recovery efforts must prioritize creating the kinds of value chains that can sustain the forest, thereby supporting food security for indigenous communities living there, and their resilience to external shocks.

This week, we share a strategy for creating economic models for the Amazon that strengthen resilience, local food systems, and planetary health. Beto Borges, Director of Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative, and a long-time partner, Jacob Olander of EcoDecisión, show how support for small forest enterprises, regional market development, and national and global efforts to stamp out illegal deforestation reinforce each other.

I hope you and your loved ones are staying well. Be safe and keep up the good work,


COOPAITER members, part of the Paiter Surui Indigenous People, weighing Brazil nuts produced by the cooperative. Forest Trends is partnering with COOPAITER to build new value chains for Brazil nuts.

The “Amazon strategy” for supply-chain resilience

Beto Borges and Jacob Olander

The Amazon rainforest has been shaped for millennia by human occupation, but of a kind that is very different from the logging, razing for cattle ranches, and plowing for soy that we see today.

Traditional Amazon systems have been based on diversity, not monoculture, taking advantage of a multitude of different crops and wild-harvested foods, drawing carefully on different forest types and cultivated areas, and keeping the overall landscape intact. You may be surprised to learn that the Amazon in many ways is much closer to a carefully tended garden than a wilderness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of global food supply chains. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also provided cover for a spike in deforestation in many places, undermining an important source of food security for many rural and indigenous communities. Indigenous communities, already buffeted by economic pressures, invasions of their territories, and violence against their leadership, are feeling the brunt of the pandemic.

Recovery planning should mimic the original Amazon strategy: instead of relying on single-product economies based on beef, soy, or palm oil, we can create a diversity of supply chains based on the incredible natural wealth of the region. We can focus on products that sustain the forest and the communities living there, instead of products that drive forest loss.

Our Amazon strategy is threefold:

  1. First, partner with indigenous communities to incubate new value chains for products that can be grown and harvested without cutting down forests.
  2. Next, create market demand and viable supply chains for these products by working with a broad network of buyers, restaurants, food writers and culinary influencers, entrepreneurs, and conservation groups in South America and around the world.
  3. Finally, it’s necessary to take on the other side of the equation – engage companies and governments in the battle to reduce global demand for illegal and unsustainable beef, soy, and timber, and enforce existing laws to protect forests and the rights of indigenous peoples.

These efforts mutually support each other and deliver more resilient livelihoods and food security for communities. They also create an economic engine to keep the Amazon forest intact – something that is non-negotiable if we’re to meet climate and biodiversity targets.

Keep reading on the Forest Trends blog: “ The ‘Amazon Strategy’ for supply-chain resilience”

Choose Your Own Adventure: A Roundup of Films about the Great Outdoors

We’re all feeling pretty cooped up these days. But there are a number of terrific film festivals and feature films streaming online. Outside Magazine has put together a selection of the best. Here’s to future adventures together sometime soon. 

Forest Trends Board, friends and family at the “unofficial” screening of Stewards of the Forest, a short film about our work with the Yawanawa Indigenous People of Brazil, Washington DC in 2017.