From political discourse to governance capacity: zero deforestation commitments and their uptake by the leather sector

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Aynur Mammadova, a Ph.D. from the Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture, and Forestry (Doctoral School Land, Environment, Resources, and Health) of the University of Padova is looking at deforestation footprint of leather and feasibility of sector-wide forest-related commitments. Within the EFI Short Scientific Visit Call she visited Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR) in the Netherlands during the period of 05 September– 13 October 2017. She was hosted by Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group (FNP) of Wageningen University.

Tackling global deforestation has been on the agenda of the international community for decades. Different policies, regulations and third-party verification systems have been directed towards conserving the world’s remaining forests and tackling illegal and unsustainable use. While acknowledging the role of businesses and financial institutions in achieving a deforestation free economy, there is an increasing trend to put forward time bound targets.

The livestock sector being the largest contributor to tropical deforestation is relatively slow with commitments. Aynur’s research takes the Italian leather industry as a case study to explore the governance capacity of the sector for potential uptake of “zero deforestation commitments”. Incomplete traceability, complexity of the upstream tier of the supply chain, and lack of negotiation power are among the many challenges the sector is facing. Serving as a new policy tool, these commitments help to enlarge the arena of actors around forest policies and deforestation strategies. Thus, by identifying public and private actors and their power of influence within the governance scheme of the leather sector, the study destructures the traditional commercial supply chain of the sector and restructures it by acknowledging the other actors with power to influence the decision-making process and eventually uptake of sustainable practices.

Although short, the EFI SSV played an important role in the overall PhD research by having long-term outcomes. With the aim to move ahead with the specific subtopics of the 3 year-long research, the objectives of the visit were to take part in academic exchange and enrich the methodological and theoretical approach. To fulfil these objectives, the main activities were organized around participating in the course “Analysing Discourse: Theories, Methods and Technique”, working on weekly reports of the analysis and setting up discussions with academic staff of the University.

As the result of her visit Aynur managed to start working on the topic of discourses, transformational governance arrangements, role of traceability and transparency in the supply chain of leather and sector wide zero-deforestation commitments. She identified political discourse analysis as the most applicable approach, started the coding process for the ENVIVO-run analysis, re-structured the design of the PhD research, enhanced the data collection methods, and settled on the topics for peer-reviewed articles to be co-authored by Dr. Jelle Behagel of Wageningen University.

Overall, the SSV resulted in valuable contributions to overall structure and design of Aynur’s research. It became an important learning experience and inspiration.