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Achieving more sustainable value chains are crucial for preventing deforestation and biodiversity loss

The Caquetá River in Putumayo. Photo. @Barbara Schröter
LUCSUS researchers Barbara Schröter and Torsten Krause are studying how we can achieve more sustainable value chains for e.g. gold and cattle in Colombia. The Caquetá River in Putumayo, Colombia. Photo: Barbara Schröter

The increasing demand of minerals, oil, and agricultural goods have severe negative social and environmental impacts. The extraction of resources leads to land dispossession of small-scale farmers and indigenous communities. It also generates social and political conflicts at the local level. For decades large scale agri-food production and mineral extraction have caused severe social and environmental impacts such as displacement of indigenous peoples, violence, as well as deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss.

– Many of the environmental and social impacts of the products we consume are often made invisible by long and complex value chains. However, there is a rising demand for adopting safeguards for biodiversity and human rights protection in countries of origin of globally sourced products and commodities, says Barbara Schröter.

The European Union, who is a major importer of raw materials, is currently putting forward policy initiatives to decrease the negative impacts of its imports and to make global value chains more sustainable. 

New research project will contribute to more sustainable value chains

In a new research project, LUCSUS researcher Barbara Schröter and Torsten Krause are studying how these policy initiatives can contribute to more sustainable value chains. The project centers around six different commodity chains originating in the biodiversity-rich countries Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia,The focus is on small-scale producers, workers, corporations and governments and their possibilities to mobilize resources and influence sustainable production, consumption and procurement.

The project aims to identify how policies put in place by the European Union can contribute to improve the value chains in terms of their social and environmental impacts. As well as increase the understanding of how to effectively address ecological challenges while ensuring local communities’ capacities to adapt, influence and redirect policy in salient ways.

– All global value chains start in a local territory, some of these in remote areas on the other side of the planet. A lot of the products we consume here in Europe may have impacts on the environment, such as the deforestation of the Amazon, but as well on people’s life there, their income and personal security says Barbara Schröter.

Väggmålning där det på spanska står Verdad que podemos cuidar la casa común. Foto.
“We really can take care of our common home”. Painted wall in Mocoa, Putumayo. Photo by Barbara Schröter

Ongoing fieldwork in Putumayo, Colombia

Barbara Schröter is currently doing fieldwork in Putumayo, Colombia, where she’s been studying the value chains for gold and cattle to find out how local conditions, actors (such as farmers, miners, traders, sellers, government entities or civil society organizations) and policies shape these value chains.

– In this first visit we investigate how the involved actors understand sustainability and aspects of environmental justice such as recognition, fair processes and distribution of outcomes. We are also mapping the actors’ sequence in the value chains with the involved stakeholders, using a methodological tool called “Process Net-Map”.

Social problems, conflicts and narcotraffic in the region leads to increased challenges

The diverse combinations of actors and conflicts among them entails different social problems and levels of violence. According to the researchers, one of the biggest challenges in the project is that the chains are shaped and influenced by a highly complex Colombian context.

– The Putumayo is poorly developed and receives little support from the central government or international organisations compared to other regions. The circumstances – for example coca production, control of parts of the territory by armed and criminal forces, fluid borders to other department and states – makes it difficult to change structures that support the widespread growing of illicit crops and the associated narcotraffic.

Another challenge is that the illegal gold and cattle trade are closely connected to the narcotraffic and alternative sources of income for armed groups. These are also activities that allow for a more efficient money laundering because the products are easier to transport and legalize.

– It is clear that it will require coordinated efforts across different levels, from regional government agencies to international institutions, to support families who engage in mining and farming to work more sustainably, concludes Barbara Schröter.

About the project

This research is part of the EPICC Project - Environmental Policy Instruments across Commodity Chains Multilevel governance for Biodiversity-Climate in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia. This part of the project focus on Colombia, and in particular the extraction of gold and the raising of cattle in the department of Putumayo, Colombia.

The project is funded by:

BiodivERsa /BIODIVCLIM programme of the European Union – in Sweden by FORMAS.

Project partners:

Antwerp University  (UA) in Belgium (coordination)

Lund University  (LUCSUS) in Sweden

Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) in Germany

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNA) in Norway

Universitas Gadhja Mada (UGM) in Indonesia

Federal University Fluminense (IFF) in Brazil

Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Brazil


Barbara Schröter, LUCSUS
Torsten Krause, LUCSUS
Paula Andrea Sanchez, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, Germany

About Barbara Schröter

Barbara Schröter

Barbara Schröter is a political scientist with regional focus on Latin America. Her research focus is on governance, institutional and social network analysis using participatory methods, transdisciplinary and transformative approaches. She is currently working on nature-based solutions, water governance and sustainable global value chains. She wants to understand how people can cooperate and communicate to make this world a more sustainable and just place.

Read more about Barbara Schröter's research in the Lund University research portal.

A man in a boat. Torsten Krause. Photo.

Torsten Krause

Torsten Krause is a senior lecturer at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, LUCSUS. His expertise is in:

  • Forestry and Forest Governance
  • Conservation Science
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge
  • Ethnobiology
  • Environmental Justice

Read more about Torsten Krause