A Drive to Protect Forests: Introducing Sustainable Cattle Certification in Brazil, 2009-2016


In 2009, after environmental action group Greenpeace labeled cattle ranching in Brazil as the biggest cause of deforestation worldwide, the country’s giant beef industry got on the defensive. For many years, ranchers and land speculators had illegally cleared the Amazon rain forest and other important ecosystems to satisfy demand for beef. Amid calls for change, the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a global alliance of environmental organizations, created a certification system designed to encourage the adoption of sustainable ranching practices and foster a market for forest-friendly beef and leather products. After some early success—getting certified beef onto the shelves of a major supermarket chain—the initiative stalled. Few consumers and corporations cared about where the beef they bought came from, and ranchers were reluctant to change their ways in the absence of significant financial incentives. By late 2016, only a handful of ranchers, whose combined holdings represented a tiny fraction of 1% of Brazil’s pastureland, had received certification. However, the program succeeded in developing niche markets for certified beef, and proponents expressed hopes for more gains as consumers became more interested in the sustainability of food production.

Blair Cameron drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in São Paulo, in August and September 2016. The British Academy-Department for International Development Anti- Corruption Evidence (ACE) Progamme funded the development of this case study. Case published November 2016.

voluntary certification systems
commodity supply chains
forest conservation
Amazon rainforest
cattle ranching
beef production
Sustainable Agriculture Network
Rainforest Alliance
Focus Area(s)
Natural Resources
Critical Tasks
Certification systems
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Blair Cameron