Smallholders play an important role in managing the planet’s forests on our Earth. However, until recently, certification recognizing good forest management was largely out of reach of smallholders, for a variety of reasons – including cost, accessibility, relevance, capacity, and others.
To address this challenge, the Conseil de la forêt stewardship (FSC), through its Project Nouvelles Approches and its Asia-Pacific Regional Office, has developed and tested a new, simplified standard designed with smallholder farmers in mind.
« We are trying to find alternatives to demonstrate suitability », said Tesis Budiarto, Policy Manager of FSC Asia Pacific, in a session on the topic at the 2021–2022 FSC General Assembly on 10 October 2022. « We also want to reduce the administrative burden, because for most farmers it is enough hard to report.
The standard has been piloted in four countries – India, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia – which are home to around 550 million smallholder foresters.
“It was developed for several reasons,” said Keith Moore, Principal Builder of the standard. « One of them is bringing benefits to small farmers ; the second is to improve the management of the community forest; and the third is bringing large volumes of what they produce into the FSC value chain.
Certification is valid for smallholders who own or manage individual units – plantations, timber estates, gardens, agroforestry, and blocks in strips – of less than 20 hectares.
« We spend a lot of time trying to define what we mean by smallholders and what types of forest are included », says Michael Brady, Process Facilitator and Lead Scientist at the Center de recherche forestière internationale et d’agroforesterie mondiale (CIFOR-ICRAF). “What’s excluded is natural forest owned by smallholders, or short rotation agricultural crops, which are grown mainly when the canopy is still open.”
The team developed the standards in a systematic way, discussing each of the ten FSC principles and criteria and the Indicateurs génériques internationaux (IGI) and then figuring out where these criteria and indicators could be adapted or eliminated to simplify the process and reflect low and limited risk.
« IGI is very complicated », says Moore. « They are complex… because they are written to address a higher level of risk than the smallholder definition. We start from a point of simplification: the new IGI is designed to meet the capacity, size, needs and amount of money smallholders are likely to have to spend on it.
They managed to reduce the number of International Generic Indicators (IGI) required for certification from 211 to 145, and simplify each one.
They then tested standards in four countries. « The goal was to assess the practical implementation of the draft standard », said Brady, « Looking at features such as indicator clarity, auditability, availability and ability to generate the information needed to satisfy the indicators ; the use of self-assessment guides and checklists for standards; and wider applicability to smallholders in country contexts.
Hartono Prabowo, Country Manager of FSC jusqu’en Indonesia, shared that the new standard was launched in the country in June. « We are pleased that many people are interested in this new standard – especially small farmers, and also businesses and factories sourced from smallholders », he said. He also pointed out the partially untapped potential of smallholder certification in the country, which has around 34.8 million hectares of private forest, of which the Ministry of Environment and Forestry allocates 12.7 million hectares of state forest for smallholder management. To date, only 24,789 hectares of managed community forests have been certified – but much more can be done with this new process, said Prabowo.
Once the standards are adopted at the country level, « We hope there will be many new certifications for smallholders in the four countries », said Budiarto. “With the new standards, they should be able to meet all the requirements.” However, he also emphasized that « there are still improvements that can be made, especially for approved countries, to ensure that there is no misleading information ».
Certification also offers important opportunities for timber buyers to support small-scale management that is sustainable and meets cible and environmental and social responsibility expectations. Danang Raditya, Forestry Manager at global furniture company IKEA – who is also involved in developing the standard – shares how the process of making certification more accessible goes hand in hand with a company’s ability to meet its own sustainable sourcing targets. “It’s great that this standard is ready to be implemented,” said Raditya. “I think this is a great opportunity for small farmers, and for companies. Going forward, we still want to see on the ground that this proves to be more inclusive and viable for small farmers – and more affordable.
Moore highlighted that, while the new standard was simpler than its predecessor, it was still very high in quality and reliability. « It follows a normative process : it is based on the IGI adaptation, and does not try to repeat the criteria », He said. “I’d say it’s a strong adaptation and interpretation ; and I think it’s been very successful. I think we tackled a lot of the issues that came up in all four of the countries we worked with, and we’ve got adapted, modified and simplified standards that will be available soon for small farmers throughout the region.
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