Interview with Matthias Berninger

Bayer supports coalition to protect Amazon rainforest


Bayer has joined with many other companies and organizations to sign a declaration that calls for the protection of the rainforest in Brazil. Matthias Berninger, Global Head of Public Affairs & Sustainability at Bayer, explains the background in an interview.

The “Brazilian Coalition for climate, forest and agriculture” includes more than 200 companies from the agricultural and finance industry, environmental protection organizations and academia. In their resolution, they articulate their concerns regarding the intensified deforestation of the rainforest in Brazil: “Ninety percent of today’s rainforest deforestation in the Amazon is illegal. Other criminal acts like drug financing and tax evasion are closely linked to it.” Taking this into account, the coalition calls upon the Brazilian government to take action to regain control of the deforestation.

Matthias, the fires in the Amazon forest are all over the news. What is your view on the current situation?
The science is clear: Deforestation is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and leads to enormous biodiversity loss. Despite all efforts to halt deforestation, the world is losing forests the size of Kenya every year. This is a global challenge. In Asia, the main cause is a growing consumer class. In Africa, population growth and basic needs like firewood are a major factor. In Brazil, deforestation is mainly caused by mining, timber industries, and by the world’s growing demand for meat.

Brazil is one of the most important countries for us. What can corporations like Bayer do?
Business needs to support forest protection. Bayer is part of a coalition of 200 leading value chain partners and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We are taking a clear stand to call for enforcing forest protection laws and to drive sustainable intensification of agriculture. It is a remarkable consensus including NGOs like WWF, the farmers unions, our colleagues at BASF and Cargill, retailers like Carrefour and producers like Danone or Unilever. We at Bayer are convinced that business strategies depending on net-deforestation will have no future. This is a message that corporations don’t only hear from external stakeholders and many shareholders are also clear on their concerns about deforestation.

Dr. Klaus Kunz

Matthias Berninger

Global Head of Public Affairs & Sustainability at Bayer

What is the objective of the initiative?
We hope to get the governments in Europe and Brazil back to the negotiating table to discuss how to achieve forest protection whilst allowing Brazil to grow its economy¬ including through satisfying global demand for feed and meat. We will do our part in the coming weeks.

Could you elaborate on that statement?
Bayer has the scale and geographic spread to make a real difference here. That is why forest protection is a key element of Bayer’s climate action plan. We are already collaborating with civil society and other private and public sector entities to put forward solutions that will protect biodiversity and forests. As a leading company, we will step up our game and engage more broadly in the conversation with all relevant stakeholders, including brand owners, growers and suppliers to ensure that we help the value chain to take concerted action.

Sounds great, but not very tangible. What does it really mean?
It starts with supporting farmers who operate sustainably, legally and responsibly and by having zero tolerance for those who farm on land converted illegally by deforestation. We also have to lead by example and work with third parties to certify our own seed production. Our supplier code-of-conduct will play an additional role, e.g. to check suppliers for packaging and other raw materials.

Do you really think that Bayer can make a difference?
Yes, definitely. As part of our climate strategy, we will support carbon offsetting globally. Bayer’s offsetting should support reforestation and other biodiversity-enhancing programs, ideally developed with and supported by our customers. In Brazil, our Environmental Science team is supporting the country to restore 12 million hectares of forest. However, hands-down our biggest contribution lies in innovation. As far as the demand for soy drives deforestation, we must work harder to implement our innovations that increase yields. The more successful we are in sustainable intensification, the less pressure on further land-use extension there is.