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Tuesday, 03 July 2018
FSC engages with key stakeholders on adding value to the forestry sector in Congo Basin

FSC Business Encounter – FSC Business Encounter

On 19 June 2018, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Congo Basin office in partnership with FSC Netherlands hosted a Business Encounter in Gabon.

The aim of the business encounter was to engage with key stakeholders from Europe and Congo Basin to get a better balance about the demand and supply of FSC certified wood and wood products from the Congo Basin. European stakeholders included investors in Congo Basin concessions, as well as buyers and potential new buyers of timber products from the area. The Association Technique Internationale des Bois Tropicaux (ATIBT) was proactive in the meeting to put in regard the action plan set by ATIBT FSC certified members in May and FSC’s vision for Congo Basin. WWF also joined this roundtable as key stakeholder for the future of FSC in the region.

European purchasers have complained about anticipated medium term shortages of FSC certified hydraulic wood and in FSC certified okoumé plywood whilst certified producers from Congo Basin indicated that the market in Europe is no longer prepared to pay a premium to get FSC certified wood. The business encounter, which had presentations from leading companies such as INTERHOLCO, Precious Woods Holding AG and SNCF Reseau, was aimed identifying the main bottlenecks in meeting that demand, and to find a common direction to maintain FSC presence in Central Africa and its role in promoting the benefits of certified tropical timber.

Rupert Oliver, Trade Analyst from Independent Market Monitoring (IMM) function of the EU Timber Regulations (EUTR) indicated that the value of the timber exports to Europe from Africa has been fluctuating and is in decline, even though Cameroon continues to be one of the largest exporters of tropical timber to Europe.

“The drivers of tropical timber’s decline in Europe are well known; they include the economic downturn between 2008 and 2013, competition from China and environmental prejudices, and uncoordinated marketing. Europe is still a viable market for Africa because it still accounts for 30% of the global construction market, and 20% of global furniture production and consumption” he added.

Establishing a vision and action areas to create pathways and remove roadblocks

Jeremy Harrison, Chief Marketing Officer at FSC International said a recent research by Globescan indicated that FSC certification can increase consumer trust in companies and brands to protect forests.
“FSC is keen to work with all stakeholders in driving positive impacts on the ground about the value of FSC but growing the demand for FSC sustainably produced tropical timber to drive value chain development is still a challenge and I believe we need to start working together on promoting the benefits FSC and we already have tools to promote tropical woods that can be used by the companies in the Congo Basin” he added.

Patrizia Gregori, Environmental Performance Director for the SNCF Group, said her company is looking at procuring tropical wood for their railway sleepers because its natural durability, which makes it a viable alternative to treated temperate wood. In its calls for tender to come in 2019, SNCF will require from its suppliers 100% eco-certified tropical timber (FSC or equivalent).

Challenges to FSC Certification in the Congo Basin

Management of Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) is a particular challenge for concessionaires in the Congo Basin. A motion on IFLs at the 2014 General Assembly called for a new standard under which forest managers operating in IFLs would be required to put in place additional measures to protect the IFL, with a default 80% of the forest set aside for protection unless a lower threshold can be scientifically justified. Motion 34 / 2017 updated this, requiring an assessment of the concept of IFLs at a regional scale, considering economic, social and environmental impacts in the short and long term. This is expected to help avoid unintended consequences as FSC moves to implement protections for IFLs in forest management standards.

The FSC Congo Basin Office has made a big effort since 2014 to set regional indicators to manage IFLs with a chamber-balanced regional working group including WCS, WWF, WRI, Officials from governments, companies and representative of Civil Society, using recent and relevant available data from Global Forest Watch platform, and to accommodate the views of local stakeholders. Selective logging in FSC-certified concessions in the Congo Basin is extremely low (typically 7-10% of the aboveground biomass impacted), and concessionaires police entry to the forest to prevent their logging roads being used by others. Based on this the FSC Congo Basin Office has proposed that strictly protecting 20% of the IFLs in each concession should be sufficient to ensure the overall integrity of each IFL is maintained. This decision, taken by the chamber-balanced regional working group in April 2018, will be assessed in a multidisciplinary impact study, within the frame of the implementation of M34 / 2017, to balance the maintenance of such key landscapes for the future generation, biodiversity conservation, indigenous peoples and local communities needed access to resources and the economic viability of FSC in the region.

Another significant challenge for certificate holders in the region is the widespread perception in Europe that tropical hardwood timber is ‘bad’, with consumers associating it with clear-felling of the forest and not the well-managed concessions certified by FSC. This perception is complicated by the distinction between legal timber (the focus of the EUTR) and sustainable timber (signified by an FSC certificate, includes legality but going much broader), with many buyers now concluding that legal timber is a good ethical choice and that there is no need to go beyond that. Frustratingly for certificate holders, FSC certification does not even guarantee access to European markets under EUTR, a so-called ‘green lane’.

Meeting Outcomes

FSC will work closely with all the stakeholders to:

• Increase the proportion of forests in the Congo Basin that are FSC certified;
• Engage on a marketing campaign with ATIBT to raise awareness about importance of FSC in the Congo Basin and to emphasise that FSC-certified tropical timber is a positive ethical option;
• Lobby for FSC certification to provide a ‘green lane’ for entry into the EU under the EUTR and the full recognition, in VPAs countries, of FSC as FLEGT-compliant;
• Help, through FSC Ecosystem Services Procedures, FSC certified managers to get access to Payment for Environmental Services for their effort to maintain high ecological values of the forests;
• Promote the use of Lesser Known Timber Species from the Congo Basin in European markets.

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