Written by Art W. Klassen Thursday, 16 February 2012 10:19
In the last two years, the Tropical Forest Foundation-Indonesia (TFF), has found itself actively engaged in the promotion of forest certification, despite the fact that as an organization, TFF has avoided active endorsement of the FSC process in the past. This article explores the connection between TFFs traditional advocacy of reduced impact logging, and the relatively recent concentration on certification support activities.
Context for RIL
In the Indonesia forest concession industry, ‘business as usual’ is an obvious option which for a long time has provided an easy path to profits for the majority of companies. The conventional business model operates under a heavily regulated but lightly enforced framework of complex regulations and prescriptions.
Whether by default or design, compliance with all of the regulations governing natural forest management is, in most cases simply not economically feasible. Nor is it in many cases justified from a technical perspective.
This paradox generates a number of predictable outcomes. The myriad regulations create the perfect conditions for an ‘avoidance’ strategy whereby permits are issued, permission is granted, and avoidance of poor regulations goes unnoticed in exchange for unofficial payments.
The regulations governing forest harvesting provide little guidance on ‘how’ trees are to be extracted, yet this central activity has the greatest bearing on the condition of the residual forest and on the future productivity of the harvested area. Once an annual cutting area has been demarcated and divided into +/-100 ha cutting blocks, the forest operator is free to extract the trees in virtually any manner he chooses. The result is unnecessarily heavy damage to the forest which can be measured in terms of excessive soil disturbance, damage to the residual stand, sedimentation of the forest streams, and a lack of sensitivity to social and cultural values leading ultimately to social conflict.
In addition, the current system of allocating fixed harvest volumes by fixed area results in a situation where the companies have a great deal of latitude to pick and chose the trees and portions of trees that they extract. This results in an avoidable stem waste of high quality wood which commonly represents a 20-30% loss of high quality wood.
Why adopt RIL?
Given a ‘business as usual’ situation, where profit margins are predictable and external oversight is very weak, why would any company choose to engage in a process that challenges years of status quo?
First of all, the high profit scenarios often put forward by the detractors of the logging industry, are becoming the exception rather than the rule. Costs have been rising; terrain is getting more difficult; and the cost of compliance with more effectively monitored regulations has been going up. In addition, high quality trees of the desirable species are getting scarcer in many areas. Owners and managers are interested in the possibility of cost savings that RIL offers. This can be achieved through better planning, tighter operational control, and improved utilization.
Cost savings is the entry point that TFF uses to attract the engagement with the forest concession companies. Much of TFFs initial engagement focuses on increasing efficiency and reducing costs while simultaneously highlighting the environmental gains of a better planned and implemented extraction process.
The ‘business as usual’ model, gives the tractor operator total flexibility. Since operating a typical extraction machine is by far the highest cost in the logging operation, any savings in machine time per unit volume harvested, quickly adds up to substantial overall savings. RIL demonstrations organized by TFF have shown substantial increases in machine unit productivity, increased volume recovery, and overall lower harvesting costs.
The almost coincidental by-product of a more tightly planned and controlled harvesting activity, is a very substantial reduction in the amount of soil disturbance and other major impact parameters.
The bottom line is that RIL saves money while at the same time reducing impact. This reduced impact can be described in whatever flavor you like: higher quality residual stand, less soil disturbance, greater biodiversity retention, improved carbon retention, etc.
TFF has built a convincing program out of this simple message. Over time, the message has been reinforced by other developments.
The MoFs PHPL (mandatory certification system) is looking more critically at what happens in the forest. The message of RIL has been adopted and is increasingly being used as a yard stick to measure a concession company’s quality of forest stewardship. A performance against the MoFs standard is, in turn linked to the granting of annual cutting permits and in some cases, to concession renewal.
The international market place has gradually been increasing its scrutiny of the legality of origin and overall forest stewardship. TFF has responded by creating a “Forest-Market Linking” program which combines independent verification of legality, chain-of-custody systems, with the adoption of the technical standards of RIL. In exchange for participation in this program, TFF facilitates credible verification of the legality of the wood as well as providing its own certificates in recognition of compliance with legality standards and principles of sustainable forest management.
The Evolution of a Step-Wise Approach to Certification
The concept of a ‘step-wise’ approach to certification came about as organizations began to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge that certification posed for the FMUs, particularly in the tropical world. WWF developed a highly structured and demanding framework for promoting a step-wise approach to certification but this proved to be too inflexible and tended to frighten off potential participants.
TFF as an international organization, began its program activities in 1990 focusing on RIL promotion and training. Certification was neither promoted nor encouraged. Attitudes have evolved and it would be fair to say that TFF International now sees certification as one of the available tools to achieve sustainable forest management.
TFF-Indonesia has taken a more opportunistic approach by responding to company interests, market signals, and funding opportunities. As companies engaged in RIL, legality, CoC and other activities related to technical assistance for SFM, and, as funding opportunities expanded to take in these new areas of concern, TFF responded by offering funded assistance beyond its traditional RIL training program.
The TFF experience has been one of accidentally supporting a step-wise approach to certification. Initial reasons for engagement related primarily to RIL. As companies developed competence and experience with changes to forest management strategies, change became a goal in itself. An interest in certification was an almost natural outcome of this process.
Having achieved the legality or RIL status, companies have naturally become more confident in seeking to achieve the even higher recognition of an FSC certificate. The engagement in RIL activities essentially raised the scope of the possible to include FSC certification at a time when markets began sending out stronger signals for increasingly higher standards of forest stewardship.
TFF-Indonesia has maintained its position as a leader in providing on the ground support to forest concessions, starting with cautious engagement and responding to increasing demand for higher levels of engagement while building competence and confidence through continued technical support.
TFFs active role in The Borneo Initiative, a certification support program, is a logical outcome of its 12 years of promoting and training RIL. This can best be illustrated by looking at some samples of TFFs engagement with Indonesian concessions.
TFFs website lists engagement with 32 forest concessions. While this may not be entirely up-to-date, it provides a convenient basis for examining how concession companies have responded to TFFs initial engagement.
The premise that engagement in RIL training can lead to a decision to pursue forest certification is clearly illustrated in the above table. Of the concessions that have requested and received RIL training from TFF over the past three years, 78% have made corporate decisions to move beyond RIL and seek FSC certification. For almost all of these concessions, TFF has been the choice of technical advisor in their efforts to achieve certification.
For organizations that claim to support sustainable forest management or even certification, the message should be very clear. A familiarization with reduced impact logging management strategies may the best entry point to facilitate the achievement of higher measures of sustainable forest stewardship.
Place Ad Code Here