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  WWF 26 Jan 05
Forests in Indochina receive FSC certification

Vientiane, Lao PDR – Two natural forest areas in central Laos have been certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme, the leading international standard of good forest management.

Covering approximately 50,000ha in the provinces of Khammouane and Savannakhet, these community-based operations are the first natural forests in Indochina to achieve FSC certification by SmartWood, an accredited certifier and programme of the Rainforest Alliance.

Tropical Forest Trust (TFT) and WWF supported the forests to achieve FSC standards, resulting in increased access by the communities to the growing global market for sustainably managed wood products.

“Certification of the Lao forests is good news for the increasing number of wood processors and furniture makers in Indochina who are committed to sourcing raw materials from well-managed forests,” said Jeff Hayward, regional manager of SmartWood Asia Pacific.

The goal of FSC certification is to reward exemplary forest managers by certifying that their products come from forests that are managed according to a broad set of environmental, economic, and social criteria. Independent, third-party audits by FSC-accredited bodies like SmartWood judge forestry operations against these criteria, and if an operation passes the test its forest products can be certified.

A central and unifying idea of FSC is to reward sustainable forest management with access to premium markets where there is a demand for wood from well managed forests.

“FSC certification of these forests is a giant step forward for sustainable forestry and conservation in the region,” said Roland Eve, Country Director for WWF Greater Mekong’s Lao Programme.

“A major constraint to sustainable forestry practice on the ground is the lack of financial incentives to do all the hard work involved in good forestry, and certification helps to solve this problem.”

In total, eleven villages partnered with provincial and district level forestry offices to carry out forestry planning and operations and to share the profits from timber sales. This collaboration exemplifies a model of forest management called “participatory sustainable forest management” .

This model has been under development by the government of Laos for over a decade, with support from the World Bank and the government of Finland. In 1999, TFT carried out an initial assessment in the two provinces in order to determine whether this model could achieve FSC certification. In 2003, SmartWood carried out a full FSC assessment, which identified five conditions that needed to be addressed before FSC certification could be granted. Since then, TFT and WWF have worked with the Lao government and the communities in the area to address these conditions. Results have now been achieved with the announcement of the landmark FSC certification.

Through the certification process, these communities have developed their capacity to manage their forests as long-term sustainable resources, while also protecting and enhancing conservation values, and ensuring the continued availability of forest foods and non timber forest products (NTFPs) for livelihood security.

The management systems employed in the newly-certified forests are designed to minimise impacts on the forest while contributing to rural development. The low-impact harvesting applied in the forest imitates the natural forest cycle to ensure healthy regeneration. Villagers are integral to all parts of forestry planning and management, ensuring that operations respect and enhance community livelihoods, and in recognition of their role, a substantial portion of the profits from timber sales goes to a village development fund.

”The successful involvement of villagers in the management of their local resources is a new solution to solving problems in places where management practices are often unsustainable,” stated Hugh Blackett, TFT's Southeast Asia Director.

“Villagers bring local control and vitality to the process of ensuring the long-term sustainable management and conservation of forest resources. This achievement in Khammouane and Savannakhet establishes a model for other communities to follow.”

As more and more companies across the globe commit to supporting responsible forestry through their purchasing policies, a major challenge has emerged: a lack of certified forests. FSC certification of these two community forests in Laos will help to meet this growing demand for certified wood, while benefiting the forests and improving the livelihoods of the people who manage them.

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