National body to formulate standards for forest certification

Forest departments, however, may be reluctant to subject government forests to scrutiny

By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Published: Tuesday 17 March 2015

imageAfter years of disagreement between the government and non-government stakeholders, the country is a step closer to having its own national forest certification system in place. On March 16, representatives of forest-based industries, non-profits, forest auditors and government forest departments launched a body called Network for Certification & Conservation of Forests (NCCF).  The body will now set standards for certifying India’s forests and their products, with an aim to ensure their sustainable management.

Forest certification is a market-based mechanism which ensures that domestic forest produce commands better price in the global market, while encouraging sustainable harvesting of forests in the country. Over 430 million hectare (ha) forests worldwide have been certified against the internationally recognised standards for sustainable forest management. Regulations from developed countries—which include Lacey Amendment Act, 2008 (USA); European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR); Illegal Logging Prohibition Act, 2011 (Australia)—have put a ban on timber and timber products from unknown sources to avoid illegal felling. Majorly, this has fuelled the need for forest certification in the recent past. Besides, certification leads to better management of forest resources by promoting responsible trade in forestry.

Urgency to protect forests missing
India, however, has made little progress in forest certification. Of the total 78.92 million ha forest and tree cover in the country, only 0.8 million ha of forests has been certified so far. The total supply of certified wood in India is less than 10 per cent of the total demand. The major reason for little progress has been the government’s reluctance to subject the forests managed by it to an independent and third party scrutiny. Unlike in European or Latin American countries where majority of the forests are private or community owned, in India most of the forests are administered by the government.

“The attitude of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) reflects that the government thinks that forests do not need any certification for their management,” an official in the ministry had told Down To Earth. This is the reason why even a plan to establish a government-sponsored forest certification council, which was about to get through four years ago, has not seen the light of the day till today. “The reason for forest certification not picking up even in private forests in India is that the unified criteria established by the renowned global certification body do not go well with the Indian conditions. Also, the process of getting certified by these bodies is very expensive,” added K K Singh, chairman of NCCF.

To overcome this problem, the non-government actors in forestry have come together to establish India’s own certification standards. The standards will be evaluated and endorsed by the global forest certification body Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). PEFC, instead of prescribing a single set of standards for sustainable forest management, helps countries build their own specific standards and provides its certification endorsement to the forests based on these standards. For certification, the forests will be evaluated by independent accredited forest auditors. Based on the audit report, the NCCF and PEFC will provide the certification together.

A gap that needs attention
Though MoEF&CC has endorsed the NCCF by putting two of its officials as its board members, it is unlikely that many of the government forests will be subjected to scrutiny for certification. However, NCCF members are hopeful that once the standards are established, at least the private plantations will embrace the certification mechanism. “The price of certification can easily be offset by the premium the producer would get on the certified products. Once there is enough domestic demand for certified products and the government realises the value of certification, I hope even the government forests will be certified in large extent. This will be a major step in combating the climate change,” added the NCCF chairman.

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