Tuesday, 03 July 2018
Greetings from our Interim Africa Director
I have long been inspired by FSC’s mission to attach concrete value to responsible management of forests, especially in those countries where under-resourced law enforcement has led to negative perceptions about the ethics of forest products originated there.
In my view FSC provides the best, most widely recognised, and one of the few truly credible schemes to do that, and so joining FSC was something of a dream come true for me. I have a background in community-management of natural forests in Tanzania, but view concessions and plantations as all integral to the global battle to preserve forest biodiversity and cultural values. Having gone through the certification process I understand how hard it can be, and how gruelling those fraught debates with CB auditors can be like. I have also experienced the frustrations of what FSC can and cannot do to build markets for your own organisations’ products.
My first month in the job has been an absolute whirl. I started with the Global Staff Meeting in Bonn and some few hurried induction meetings before jetting off to Uganda, where I was proud to meet the Minister for Water and Environment, the Hon. Sam Cheptoris (see story below), and participate in the launch of the first National Forest Stewardship Standards in Africa that have been approved by FSC’s demanding Policy & Standards Committee. There I also heard first-hand about the market challenges faced by FSC-certified plantations in Uganda in a business environment where the legal status of much other timber is unclear. After that I passed through Kenya where I met with, amongst others, representatives of the Kenyan green building industry, who are keen to source FSC-certified timber from the region where they can. This market may be relatively small, but it is one opportunity that we can take right now to start to build the market for FSC certified products in the region. The hectic schedule did not let up after that: I am writing this now from Gabon where I have come to meet FSC members from the Congo Basin and attend a business encounter we have organised with our colleagues from FSC Netherlands to link Congo Basin certificate holders with new European buyers. If all goes well I hope that this might provide a template for future such events.
Overall, I am impressed at the scale of challenges that FSC is facing up to here in Africa, especially in comparison to the resources we have available. Our team is highly talented and incredibly dedicated but small, and thinly stretched across the continent. That is unlikely to change soon, so we are going to have to be ruthless in our prioritisation, focusing our time on those initiatives that will make the biggest difference to our current and future certificate holders, and other core stakeholders (which, if you are reading this, includes you). I would like us to become a bit more responsive, demand-driven rather than supply-led, and paying more attention to the market for FSC-certified produce both within Africa and amongst those importing African forest products. To that end I am keen to hear from any of you what you think our priorities should be. Please do not hesitate to drop me a line at s.ball at fsc point org. I look forward to working with you all.
Kind regards, Steve