By Instituto Escolhas

16 November 2020

11 minute read

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MONTH INTERVIEW – Ana Bastos:  Fighting illegality is a challenge for the model of forest concessions

Reducing regulatory red tape and increasing awareness are also key factors for expanding the model

By Gilse Guedes

Chemical engineer Ana Leite Bastos works on the front line of defense of sustainable forest management. To the CEO of Amata Brasil,¹ the forest concessions model can be a great ally in leaving the forest standing and a permanent source of wealth generation for local communities, fueling the Amazon bioeconomy.

To Ana, however, consolidating this model still needs three types of measures: simplifying regulation, combating illegality, and increasing social awareness of its importance as a tool for environmental policy– which, in turn, would allow the attraction of new investments and the creation of specific financing for forest concessions.

“In order for us to unlock the bioeconomy space, which is not only about wood, a focused effort is needed for research and development, which we should begin right now,” says Ana Bastos, who is part of the Working Group on Forest Concessions of the Brazil Climate Forests and Agriculture Coalition (Coalizão Brasil, Clima, Florestas e Agricultura)².

In this interview granted to Instituto Escolhas, Ana also comments on the Coalition’s work to promote the updating of the legal framework; defends the importance of the concessions as a strategy against deforestation; and speaks about “engineered wood,” a technological product that Amata hopes to commercialize widely in Brazil, generating benefits for civil construction.

Instituto Escolhas – In 2006, the Public Forest Management Law (11,284 / 2006) defined a legal framework for sustainable forest management and regulated forest concessions. The figures published in the first Annual Forest Concession Plan (Plano Anual de Outorga Florestal – PAOF), from 2007, indicated an area of 43.7 million hectares legally eligible for concession. After 14 years, concessions in the Amazon total only 1,050 million hectares. What is missing for forestry concessions to be consolidated as an economic alternative for generating income based on maintaining the standing forest?

Ana Leite Bastos – I will divide my answer into three blocks. The first point is more of a procedural nature. In order for an area to be placed under concession, the Brazilian Forest Service (SFB) must comply with certain regulations. One very important step is the forest inventory, which allows you to be able to say that there are, in fact, forest species in a given area. This is a very technical, costly, and sometimes time-consuming job. One of the ways to scale up is to reflect on the forms of the inventory, of the regulatory package, so as to simplify it somewhat. We need to reduce regulatory complexity. We need to find out how to widen the funnel at this initial regulatory stage.

Next, I think there is a second block, which is very important and should be discussed. Once we place an area under concession, how do we create mechanisms to deal with the illegality that remains present? In order to scale up, more discussion on the roles and responsibilities of all agents is needed. A bit more clarity is needed about how issues related to infrastructure will be worked out so that the concession is able to be competitive in this context of illegality, which has existed for a long time in the region.

Finally, there is a very important task. I’m going to call it general awareness. When we talk about forest concessions, how many people actually know what a concessionaire does in one of these areas? When we talk about sustainable forest management, how many people understand what that means? I am new to this sector. I joined Amata three years ago, and it was a very important learning process to realize that sustainable forest management is an extremely technical job, a choice based on technological principles so that the forest remains standing. In low-impact management, the concessionaire removes fewer than three trees per hectare from the forest. It’s as if I had a soccer field covered in dense forest and, from that space, I removed fewer than three trees. Really, when we say that concessions work according to a standing forest model, the forest, in fact, remains standing. I think the general public doesn’t understand this. It’s necessary to raise awareness among consumers about the benefits of this wood.

Escolhas – You are among the members of the Forest Concessions Task Force (TF) of the Brazil, Climate, Forests and Agriculture Coalition, which is considering new proposals to render the business model for forest concessions more viable. This task force has brought together different segments interested in this theme, such as concessionaires, forest engineers, environmentalists, and lawyers. Among the proposed legal amendments, which ones would you highlight in order to make forestry concessions more attractive to the private sector?

Ana Bastos – I see two very important points. One is the request to include reviews. A concession contract can last up to forty years. One of the proposals that I consider essential is the legal provision for reviewing the terms of the contract every five years, based on what the concessionaire has observed, mapped, and studied from the concrete reality of the forest under concession. This way, you gain legal certainty. The second point relates to a theme of the future. In general, forests play an important role in carbon capture and storage. We see in today’s world a need for mechanisms to capture carbon, to compensate, to mitigate. This bill contains a suggestion to include the sale of carbon in concession areas. This speaks volumes about this new economy that is yet to arrive.

Escolhas- What protections should be offered so that concessionaires can operate more safely in regions such as the Amazon, where many problems with illegal logging remain?

Ana Bastos – I have no doubt that the fight against illegality is one of the central themes, as well as one of the most complex ones. It’s very important to have dialogue, an agreement. I think it is important that legal instruments clarify the roles of the granting authority, the authorities, the concessionaire, the communities. When we talk about protection, each reality will require a different solution. I don’t dare say that one unique solution will address all situations. Instead, what I say is that, before the concessionaire assumes its role, the roles and responsibilities of the government, the community, and non-governmental organizations must be very clear and agreed upon. The Chico Mendes Institute (ICMBio), the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), the Federal Police and, in several cases, the Public Prosecutor’s Office are all active within the concession area of the Amazon region. When we talk about protection in the broad sense, the key word is coordination, which also involves the concessionaire and the community. The community is an important actor in the fight against illegality, because it is usually very close to the forest, in areas where illegal activities take place, and therefore it contributes to this fight against illegality.

Instituto Escolhas- What are the benefits of an efficient system of forest concessions for the development of a bioeconomy and even for combating illegal deforestation and land grabbing?

Ana Bastos – Perhaps it is worth mentioning here how the logic of concessions works, so that we can see where this value is. When the concessionaire accesses a forest concession area, the first thing it has to do is to divide the area into production units. For example: if you have a 50 thousand hectare unit and you divide it into 25 production units, each production unit will have 2 thousand hectares. What does that mean? It means that, over 25 years, once a year you will take one of these production units and extract two trees per hectare. Two trees per hectare, in a hectare that has hundreds of trees–what happens? To a layperson, it’s as if the forest remains practically intact. You rotate over 25, 30, 40 years. What happens is that you make this resource inexhaustible. It is a permanent generation of wealth. Twenty-five years later, the forest is still there. During this 25-year period, for example, the forest has recovered, other trees have been born, some have developed, and, in 25 years, species that are not commercialized nowadays may have found their market.

During this period, you generate income for the community, you create jobs for those nearby. To deal with illegality and land grabbing, an economical solution is needed for those in the region. You generate wealth that is not exhausted. Deforestation depletes the forest’s potential. When you clear trees, there is no forest left, and you have to replace it with another activity. Whereas if you have a standing forest generating sustainable income for a community, you open space to develop assets that can be used for other products, such as medicines and cosmetics.

Instituto Escolhas – With respect to economic opportunities within the context of the  bioeconomy, which forest products and services can be part of the forest concessions business model?

Ana Bastos – The central point of forestry concessions, for the most part, has to do with wood products. Each bidding notice includes themes that may be part of that concession. This is a bit of a technical, marketing choice, depending on where the concession is located. For example: you can have tourist services, and you can have a certain structure for visitation or for research. There are non-timber products that may be part of the scope. For example, the exploration of Brazil nuts, which is a non-timber product. The concessionaire has this written into the contract, but as one of the activities that should generate income for the community. The concessionaire has the duty, the challenge, the obligation, the opportunity to create a Brazil nut collection program, but the community collects the nut and keeps the income. When we talk about the bioeconomy, I think we are just beginning to take baby steps in relation to what the forest can offer. Here is some food for thought: shouldn’t the concessionaires, along with the granting authority, open a more structured line of research? I feel that the opportunity is there. With all this biodiversity, are there interesting things of economic value? The answer is: certainly. The issue is the question, “which one?”. We still lack this information. For us to unlock the bioeconomy space, which is not just about wood, a directed research and development effort is needed, which we should start now.

Escolhas – In terms of the exploitation of forest products, Urbem, an Amata company, has been working with a technological product called “engineered wood.” What is “engineered wood,” and what are its advantages?

Ana Bastos – “Engineered wood” undergoes an industrial process that, in the end, gives it characteristics of humidity, mechanical-structural resistance, and resistance to fire and to termite attacks. It is very different from original wood, green wood, which is not industrialized. The process goes more or less like this: you take the original log and saw into slats, which are glued in different configurations. If they are glued together, we call it “Glulam,” which is glued laminated wood. Once glued, it goes through a press and drying process and receives chemicals to protect it from fire and insects. It has characteristics very similar to the pillars and steel and concrete beams used in civil construction. They have the same performance. For another “engineered wood” product [Laminated Glued Wood, or LGW], the slats are not glued on top of each other. It is made at a perpendicular angle, gluing into different layers with cross combinations. You industrially produce panels of 3 by 12 meters that end up working as a large slab, and this slab performs in a specific project as the equivalent to a concrete and steel slab.

“Engineered wood” has several types of advantages. One is that, once produced, it is possible to make cutouts and precision cutting at the factory. You build a large Lego piece. Practicality brings some benefits. A job that would take 12, 18, 24 months to build can be built in up to 40% less time. Another major advantage has to do with  carbon capture. Wood is a great carbon store. Other products that are used in construction in this combination of concrete and steel have a very high carbon emission profile. Globally, the construction sector is responsible for almost 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions. With “engineered wood,” a construction project that would typically emit carbon starts to capture carbon. We see “engineered wood” as a product that is here to stay. This technology was born in Europe and is spreading all over the world.

Escolhas – Could you list the technological and even regulatory challenges keeping “engineered wood” from receiving, for example, accreditation from the National Institute of Metrology Standardization and Industrial Quality (Inmetro) and from gaining other advantages, such as insurance coverage?

Ana Bastos – The biggest part of the challenge was present twenty years ago, when it was born in Austria and the first buildings made with this material. I am not saying that there are no challenges. But we have twenty years of experience abroad in our favor. When we talk about insurers, obviously in Brazil there are not enough buildings yet to say that insurers, especially Brazilian ones, already possess this technological knowledge. But there are a few hundred facilities, for example buildings, around the world using this technology and that are insured. Brazil also benefits from the presence of several international insurers that have already gone through this process abroad and that would have no reason not to follow the same logic in Brazil. If it works well in one country, why isn’t it going to happen in another? This is a challenge that, in time, will be overcome. On the regulatory aspect, I will speak generally. In Brazil, there is an advantage. Which one? Brazilian building standards, in general, were created and originally based on European standards. It is precisely in Europe where regulation is most developed. While in Brazil technical standards are not completely reviewed and adjusted for “engineered wood,” I can reference Eurocode 5, which deals with all of that and can be used in Brazil. Whether with respect to insurance, financing or the regulatory dimension, there is a solid path with legal certainty for us to bring this technology to Brazil.

Escolhas – Which wood types in Brazil are already suitable for this type of use, and what needs to be done so that our tropical species, especially those in the Amazon, can be used?

Ana Bastos – The types of wood that have already been tested, used, built, improved and perfected were the conifers. The conifer that we have today that is most similar to those in Europe and the United States is pine: a type of wood that has the potential for the “engineered wood” process. When Amata started working on the theme of “engineered wood,” we made some strategic choices. It is a challenge to discuss and engage with architects, engineers, developers, and builders on materials that they do not know. So let’s start with a type of wood that is already known and proven, with production machinery that is already known and proven, with standards that have been used to evaluate this material for 20 years. We plan to start research and development work. Why? Because Brazil has unique conditions for forests. Whether with pine, or with eucalyptus, or with native ones. Yet I think this is a medium-term effort. In the short term, pine is a few years ahead.

¹ AMATA BRASIL is a company that has been operating for more than 15 years in the sustainable management of production and marketing of wood products.

²  The Coalition Task Force on forestry concessions, led by Ana Bastos and Leonardo Sobral (Imaflora), was attended by Roberto Waack (Arapyaú), Tasso Azevedo (Mapbiomas), Paulo Barreto (Imazon), Justiniano Neto (Confloresta), Fábio Olmos (Permian Global) and Jeanicolau Lacerda (Avaplan), among others. Instituto Escolhas acted as facilitator of this collective construction process and consolidated the suggestions in a legal bill to update the legal framework for forestry concessions.

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