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Certification has a positive impact on sustainable forest management

29 April 2010 Wageningen University and Research Centre

Forest certification (by the FSC, for example) is having a positive impact on the management of tropical forests from the economic, social and ecological point of view. This is the conclusion drawn from a study carried out by Wageningen University in which 123 evaluation reports on the management of natural tropical forests were analyzed.

The market-based initiative of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC, started in 1993) and of other forest certification agencies, allows timber companies to obtain a higher market price for their products if their forest management satisfies specific socio-economic and ecological principles and criteria.

An interdisciplinary team led by Marielos Peña-Claros from Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, examined 123 evaluation reports of certified tropical natural forests managed by 119 private or governmental bodies, such as municipal authorities. The reports were screened according to three sustainability criteria: ecologically, economically and socially responsible management. On the whole, the most difficult criteria to satisfy are not the social criteria (such as poor working conditions). The eight most common obstacles (including the safety of forest workers, the management plan and the protection of rare species) account for 42% of all the problems cited in the reports. The three pillars of sustainable development are stressed equally, although there are some differences among the various countries.

Although the area of certified forests has risen steeply since 2003 (by approx. 250%), the researchers emphasize the need for strong incentives to continue boosting the area of sustainably managed forests. For example, extra attention should be given to indigenous and local people that rely on the forests, via legislation or financial/technical support.

The researchers noted that the working standards of the tropical forest managers has increased over the years. The number of points for improvement has dropped substantially over the past few years. The quality of management seem to improve even before the manager applies for FSC certification. Nearly all the problems identified are solved within five years.

Certification also boosts sustainability in the long term as forest managers are requested to improve their monitoring systems and to implement the results obtained.  This can have an impact on areas such as forest productivity or the impact of logging on biodiversity and species composition of the forests.

By late 2008, 10.9 million hectares of tropical forest (an area 2 1/2 times the size of the Netherlands) was FSC certified world-wide, much of it in South-America. Bolivia manages the majority (28%), followed by Brazil (16%). Twenty other countries are responsible for the rest. Most of the forests (74%) are natural forest, and these are mainly used for commercial timber production (76%). Another 3 million hectares have now been certified, mainly in Africa.

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