Peter Umunay, senior environmental specialist at GEF
Peter Umunay, senior environmental specialist at the Global Environment Facility, speaks at 2023 FOLUR annual meeting in São Paulo. FOLUR/Mauro Nery


Like other agricultural initiatives led by the World Bank, the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration program (FOLUR) is a powerful game-changer in the global arena, sparking transformative government policies and private sector practices to support environmental restoration.

The FOLUR effort is urgent as supply chain vulnerabilities to risks provoked by international conflict and the vagaries of weather patterns worsened by climate change on agriculture grow in tandem with spiraling demand for food under pressure of population growth and changing dietary preferences. The program was designed to play a significant role in containing environmental damage caused by agriculture-driven deforestation and biodiversity loss, which have also exacerbated the climate crisis.

At the recent FOLUR annual meeting co-hosted in São Paulo by the Brazilian government a main subject of discussion was how best to accelerate fruitful knowledge exchange to build bridges between countries, deploy tools and establish frameworks to improve the flow of agricultural and environmental expertise.

The FOLUR program re-envisions agriculture as a sustainable venture by building integrated landscape farming systems and efficient commodity value chains to reduce the environmental impact of cocoa, coffee, livestock, maize, palm oil, rice, soy and wheat in 27 countries.

A $345 million initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – the multilateral organization supporting environmental improvements in countries throughout the Global South – ultimately FOLUR is tasked with transforming the global food system.  

“The eight commodities covered by FOLUR are very responsible for the deforestation that has happened in the past,” said Chris Brett, lead agribusiness specialist at the World Bank, who jointly leads FOLUR with Timothy Brown, senior natural resource management specialist at the World Bank.

“What we’re trying to do in the future is to reduce the environmental impact of these commodities on the climate crisis and on biodiversity loss and even use them to drive reforestation.”

More than a hundred delegates were in São Paulo, at the first annual meeting since the program launched in 2021, representing the FOLUR country projects, the private sector, GEF and the five FOLUR partner organizations – including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Food and Land Use Coalition, the Global Landscapes Forum, the Good Growth Partnership and the International Finance Corporation.

Only by preventing forest and biodiversity loss, and land and soil degradation will agriculture-related emissions, which equal almost a quarter of all human-caused emissions, be sufficiently contained, said Peter Umunay, senior environmental specialist at GEF.

Curtailing water pollution that damages aquatic ecosystems and coastal areas must also feature at the top of the agenda, he added. “The money that the GEF provides is very small, but if we bring everyone and actors together, then we can make an impact.”


The complexity of taking a coordinated approach to designing projects for the eight commodities in disparate ecosystems and circumstances poses challenges some delegates suggested could be best tackled by regional meetings designed to allow countries projects focused on the same crops to learn from each other.

“The food system space is ever evolving, it’s going to change, and it's up to us how we adapt and how we meet the emerging trends in a way where action is possible at the national level,” said Gayatri Kanungo, senior environmental specialist at the World Bank, adding that governments of countries engaging with FOLUR projects have made long term commitments entrenching integrated landscape management in their development plans and national programs.

The meeting highlighted that a connection exists between yesterday, today and tomorrow, she said. “What we are doing today with FOLUR, is aiming to provide a strong enabling environment, both for investments and for technical assistance, as we go forward.”

At the national level, an enabling environment can be supported by ministries of agriculture and environment working together, said Brown.

For example, the FOLUR Vertentes Project in Brazil offers an example of synergistic relations between ministries. It aims to increase the area under sustainable management in the soy and cattle landscape of the Cerrado savanna grasslands.

“We need to promote the integration of sustainable food systems and landscapes, biodiversity conservation and recovery of degraded areas,” said Sibelle Silva, director of Innovation and Rural Development in Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, which is working in alignment with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change on the FOLUR initiative.

“Public sector engagement will include strengthening the legal protection of natural ecosystems on private lands, and the alignment of existing policies and incentives to promote sustainability in agriculture value chains and forest protection,” she said.


Actions at the national level do not happen in a void; they are formulated in conjunction with and in response to international agreements. Targets in the new Global Biodiversity Framework agreed in Montreal open the door for governments and companies to work more closely together. The UK government passed anti-deforestation legislation in 2021 and the EU is adopting a similar law to prevent trade in unsustainably produced goods.

The new regulations are going to have an impact on FOLUR countries, which will have to ensure commodity production is compliant. “These standards will have a big impact, so we have to ensure markets will remain open to these products,” Brett said.

Partners have launched a range of tools to monitor and reduce deforestation, which include ideas on connecting farmers to markets and improving systems around productivity, reducing food loss and waste, and supporting women, youth and Indigenous Peoples in removing structural barriers.

“By identifying gender responsive solutions, FOLUR project teams can ensure their projects are more inclusive,” said Patti Kristjanson, FOLUR senior gender specialist. “They may not realize it, but they are already engaging in empowerment activities,” she added, citing initiatives such as blended finance, female-targeted financial products, technical training and mobile banking as examples.

~ By Julie Mollins, published May 4, 2023

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