A CALL FOR FOREST CERTIFICATION : THE NEED OF THE HOUR FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
The topic chosen by the writer pertains to the nascent concept of Forest Certification. Forest certification was developed as a concept, to ensure that forest resources were managed in an effective and sustainable manner and to provide an assurance to the customers, that the raw materials used in the end product have been sourced from a forest, maintained according to a set of principles and criteria, which ensures sustainable forestry. The importance of Forest certification has shot up in recent times, as awareness about climate change and the need for sustainable growth has spread across the globe. Initiatives such as the Paris climate agreement, which saw energetic participation from countries across the globe, and their commitments towards the environment, has pinned the need for forest certification on a higher pedestal than before.
In contemporary times, with the pandemic taking the form of a juggernaut, waking up to the news about ‘global warming making monsoons severe’ goes a long way to suggest that neglecting the environment may not be in the best interest of the homo sapiens. It is a well-known fact, that forest help in keeping global warming under check and thus, it is of great importance to ensure that forests are managed in a safe and sustainable manner. The central idea behind Forest certification would be to spread awareness to the consumers about the need to prefer sustainably produced products. When the society undergoes a paradigm shift, from preferring just any end product to preferring products that have been sustainably procured/produced, the long term goals of sustainable development of forest and environment would automatically be achieved.
FOREST CERTIFICATION INITIATIVES
The concept of Forest certification came to the fore, in the year 1993, when the Forest Stewardship Council was established. Since then, there has been a proliferation of Forest certification initiatives, owing to the spread of awareness about the need for sustainable development and non-discriminatory usage of the nature’s gift. The two main certification programs, which hold the upper echelon in the field of certification initiatives, are -
It is needless to say, the core function of these two initiatives would be to provide certification. The other functions they perform are - setting standards, in accordance to which a forest and its resources are to be managed, they provide accreditation to certifiers and ensure that the product carries the label, which shows they have been sustainably produced. The FSC logo, which is attached to the products, is in the form of a ‘green check mark and a tree in the background’, whereas the logo affixed on products by PEFC is in the form of ‘green trees’. There are some contrasting differences between the two certification. The FSC, uses its own principles and criteria, whereas, the certification by PEFC, uses standards which are different in different areas. Unlike FSC, which provides its own system for certification, the PEFC provides endorsements to the national forest certification programs, such as the Brazilian Forest Certification and Australian Forestry Standard. The FSC certification is considered as the most demanding certification as the process requires adherence to stricter principles and criteria.
The concept of Forest certification in India, is in its fledgling state. The spread of awareness regarding certification has not been on the upper end of the spectrum, in comparison with the western countries. A major milestone for India, in respect to the field of Forest certification would be the endorsement of India’s very own certification programme, which has been developed by NCCF and endorsed by PEFC. The certification initiative aims at augmenting the forest management procedures, seeks to enhance biodiversity conservation, ensures a third party audit and monitors and evaluates the certified products. With the awareness on conservation of environment and sustainable development making their rounds, people are becoming more conscious of their choices and are starting to prefer products which have been certified under various initiatives. This has been a major blow to the Indian industries of wood and forest fibers, as most Indian exports are not certified.
A total of 275 million, is the estimated number of people who are dependent on forest and its resources for their livelihood. This estimate includes those employed in wood and forest fiber based and allied industries. There are 4 main hurdles to certification. The small and medium enterprises are the backbone of such industries and most lack awareness on the need to get certification. The requirement of certification in the global market has resulted in thinning exports from India, thereby affecting the profit margins and adding to the already increasing toil and suffering caused by the pandemic. Another hurdle in acquiring such certification is the small and unorganized nature of forest dependent industries. The 3rd main hurdle would be the cost angle associated with acquiring a certificate. The costs associated are usually high as the procedure involves constant reviewing of operations, audits by 3rd parties, use of multi-disciplinary teams, etc. The 4th main hurdle would be that, most of the forest related industry’s demand, about 80 percent are met from trees outside forest (TOF), and under the certification module of NEEC, there are only 28 criteria for certification, against 70 and 300 formulated under FSC and PEFC. This might not settle well and create confidence among the global customers.
To tackle hurdles 1 and 4, the central government must take up the onus of sensitizing the SME’s about the twin benefits of forest certification, namely sustainable development as well as value addition to their products on the global market. The government must increase its spending on environmental awareness from the 175 crore, to at least 7 percent of the 3100 crore budget allocated for the Ministry of Environment. Another shocking revelation is that the central schemes such as the National Green Mission, etc. are grossly underfunded. Providing adequate funding to schemes and allocating a sufficient portion of the Ministry’s budget towards collection of environmental information and dissemination of such information to the stakeholders , by means of media and training programmes, would seem to serve as solutions to the above mentioned hurdles. The subject of forest, falls under the concurrent list of schedule 7 of the Indian constitution.
In light of this, it would be wholly wrong in weighing the onus on only the central government. The problem of informal nature of such industries and the cost related factor can be best resolved by the state governments. The state’s should come up with group certification schemes and encourage SME’s to come together and apply under such schemes, in order to tackle the informal nature and high cost associated with certification. To promote such initiatives, the centre could slash the export duties on products registered under such schemes.
The wood and forest fiber industries in India need low capital investments and have huge export potential. The insistence of export market for forest certification has proved to be a legal quagmire for the dependents of the forest allied Industries. India should use the momentum from the outcry for forest certification to its benefit. The momentum could be used to India’s advantage in two ways: financial and better International standing. In the last financial year, the total revenue generated from 40,000 cubic meters of timber was valued at around 260 crores.
Forest certification of such products would have fetched higher prices. Certified goods shall place India at a higher pedestal, in terms of its International commitments towards the environment, especially at a time when the president of USA has questioned India’s commitments towards the environment and had termed it as a charade. In recent times, GI (geographical indication) tags have been granted for wood carvings, such as Thanjavur Netti, Arumbavur and thammampatti wood carvings, etc. to name a few. The demand for such products, coupled with its GI tag and forest certification, could help India, position the products better in the world market, such as in Europe and the gulf countries and in turn fetch higher prices. Thus, forest certification could be used as means of value addition to the concomitant industries as well as provide a facelift to the Indian market, in such a way to reverberate India’s position and commitment towards sustainably managed forests.
About the author:
The author is currently pursuing his 3rd year in law from Symbiosis, Hyderabad. The author is a member of the prestigious ADRS society of Symbiosis and being its member has provided useful insights over the need for arbitration of environmental issues, thereby inculcating an interest towards environment and concomitant issues. The author had the privilege of working with NGOs- Agaram foundation’ and under the law offices of V. Seshadri and Company and K.S Kailasam and Associates as part of his internship program. These internships have played a part in guiding the desire over environmental issues.