Unveiling the Reality: EU Deforestation Regulation and Its Impact on Smallholders

by | Nov 21, 2023 | Legislative Measures, Sustainability | 0 comments

Have you ever wondered how well-intentioned policies affect those at the grassroot level? The European Union’s latest “EU Deforestation Regulation – An Opportunity for Smallholders” brochure offers a hopeful view of the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR). However, my interactions with key players in the coffee and cocoa sectors paint a starkly different picture.

A Contrast of Perspectives

The EU’s brochure aims to present the EUDR in a positive light, highlighting its potential benefits. In contrast, my discussions with union members, cooperative farmers, agricultural consultants, and buyers reveal a troubling gap between the EU’s narrative and the ground reality. I have published about this before. These conversations have not only raised red flags but also sparked in me a profound sense of frustration and disappointment when reading the EU’s brochure.

The Good Intentions of the EUDR

The EUDR, a limb of the ambitious EU Green Deal, strives to promote sustainable practices and reduce environmental harm. Its goals are commendable, focusing on legal production and combating deforestation after December 31, 2020. Yet, despite its noble intentions, the regulation seems to lack a practical roadmap for those who are the backbone of the supply chain – the smallholders.

EU Deforestation Regulation - An Opportunity for Smallholders front page

Misplaced Expectations

A telling line in the brochure states, “Smallholders who do not place these products on the EU market themselves are under no direct legal obligations.” This statement seems disconnected from the reality that smallholders, entangled in complex supply chains, are expected to provide digital information, a task many are unprepared for due to limited resources and digital infrastructure.

The Unrealised Challenges

Many smallholders are struggling with basic necessities like technology and financial support, making compliance with the EUDR challenging. For instance, the requirement for precise geolocation data assumes access to GPS technology, which many smallholders lack. Additionally, the brochure fails to address how these farmers, often reliant on intermediaries, can realistically meet the compliance demands.

Market Dynamics and Unanswered Questions

The market’s cautious reaction to the EUDR has led to a hesitance in engaging with smallholders, risking their exclusion from the EU market. The brochure optimistically talks about benefits like stronger market positions and fairer prices but falls short in explaining how these will materialise under the current market dynamics.

“Smallholders can play an important role in promoting fair and eco-friendly farming. By ensuring that their products are deforestation free, smallholders can protect the natural environment, which is often their livelihood. Moreover, there is a growing demand for deforestation-free and sustainably produced products around the world. Smallholders can reap the benefits of these business opportunities.”

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries

EU Support: The Need for Clarity and Action

The EU’s promises of support in the brochure are vague and lack detailed plans, leaving smallholders confused and directionless. There’s a significant discrepancy between the EU’s pledges and the actual assistance received by farmers and value chain actors.

Dialogue to understand farmers' needs

AgUnity’s Role in Bridging the Digital Divide

At AgUnity, we recognise the urgent need to support smallholders in this digital transition. Our initiative focuses on digitizing smallholder farmer value chains, equipping them with the necessary tools and capabilities to meet EUDR requirements and sustain their livelihoods amidst evolving market demands.

Looking Forward: A Call for Action

The EUDR holds the potential for a sustainable future, but it needs a realistic and informed approach that considers the actual needs and capabilities of smallholder farmers, cooperatives, and local traders/exporters. We must strive to turn this regulation into an opportunity, not a barrier. While I remain hopeful for the long-term benefits of the EUDR, its immediate implications seem less optimistic. Significant work is needed to bridge the gap between its objectives and the actual capacities and circumstances of smallholder farmers.

Through initiatives like AgUnity and by aligning the EUDR implementation with real-world challenges, this regulation can truly become a catalyst for positive change.


The journey towards sustainable and equitable agricultural practices is complex and challenging. As we advocate for policies like the EUDR, it’s crucial to listen to those at the heart of the matter – the smallholder farmers. Their voices and experiences are pivotal in shaping policies that are not only well-intentioned but also practical and effective.

What are your thoughts on the EU Deforestation Regulation and its impact on smallholders? Share your views in the comments below, and let’s discuss how we can collectively work towards more inclusive and practical environmental policies.

Source: EU Deforestation Regulation – An Opportunity for Smallholders, by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Environment (Publications Office of the European Union, 2023, DOI: 10.2779/9252)


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