Certification desirable to sustain forests

Certification desirable to sustain forests

Global demand of wood is increasing particularly in China, India, Brazil, and South Africa and is mostly being met from Amazon, Russian and Congo forests. Demand for industrial wood alone is around 1.9 billion M3 (Food and Agriculture Organisation). Global imports of wood, ply wood and panel industry has reached $158 billion.

World demand for paper and paperboard is forecast to grow by 2.1 per cent annually in the long term, reaching an estimated 490 million tonnes by 2020, according to a recent paper demand and supply study. In volume terms, China, India and Russia will account for 35-70 per cent of global paper incremental demand in 2004-2020, depending on the product area.

Global illegal removal of wood including processing is anywhere between 30-100 billion $ per year (Source: United Nations Environment Programme). Global rate of deforestation is 0.2 per cent (FA0 2006 estimate), which amounted to loss of 161 million hectare of forests. Due to deforestation, net exporters of natural timber have turned net importers (Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia).

Alarmed by accelerated pace of deforestation worldwide and as part of the Rio conference on sustainable development, a new concept of forest certification evolved in early 1990s which basically revolved around voluntary market mechanism in which the signatory countries, including India, laid emphasis on use of wood products coming from sustainably managed forests to be certified so by third party independent audit and evaluation.

It has achieved significant success since 1990 and as on 2010, 350 million ha of forests were certified by five umbrella organisations  which has now reached close to 420 million ha driven primarily by European market. Some 10 per cent of world’s forests are covered under forest certification. Sales of certified forest products is worth $20 billion with premium on price ranging from 15 to 25 per cent particularly from the tropics  (Source UNEP). Even NTFP products have niche market particularly that have long shelf life, have less per unit costs and easy to process, store and handle without major investment.

India is a fast developing economy and is slated to be one of the major economic power by 2020. India’s GDP grew by 9.3 per cent in 2007-08. It is now projected to grow at least by 8 per cent. India is a major user of wood and wood products in Asia Pacific Region. Its plywood market is of the order of $1 billion growing at 10 to 20 per cent per annum with more than 600 plywood units in the country. There is a tremendous international market for panel wood which they are yet to penetrate.

Timber, furniture market

India’s timber and furniture market is equivalent to 1.25 billion US $ with the demand for high end furniture growing at 15 per cent annually. India’s export of wood and wood product reached an all time high of $453 million during 2010-11 showing a growth of 20 cent over previous year. (Source: Ministry Commerce Export-Import Data Bank). This does not include non-timber forest products which itself would run into billions of dollars. For example India alone exports medicinal and botanical plants worth a billion dollar both through formal and informal channels.

Thus, while on the one hand pressure on India’s forests to meet above growing demands of forest products have  resulted in large scale deforestation and  forest degradation, we are missing out on the international  demand for certified wood which is growing with many buyers and consumers willing to give preference to sustainably produced forest products.

Development of agreed standards defining sustainable forest management, auditing of forest operations and issuance of certificates to the companies that meet those standards, auditing of the chain of custody to ensure that a company’s product comes from certified forests and the use of product labels that certified products can be identified in the marketplace, pose big challenge for wide spread adoption of certification in India.

Even though forest certification remains a contentious issue in national and international forest policy particularly where natural forests are under government control, the good news is that nations including India are trying to find a balance between social needs and forest conservation in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal. The ongoing international negotiations regarding climate change and REDD+ would need to focus in this area also in order to manage our forests in a sustainable manner to form the back bone of above goal.

(From a paper presented by the writer, a former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Karnataka, at the International Conference on Forest Certification recently in New Delhi)

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