WWF describes the Amazon basin as: “One of the most environmentally important places on Earth containing the largest intact tropical rainforest, harbouring the richest variety of life, and generating more freshwater than anywhere else”. Greenpeace estimates the Brazilian Amazon alone comprises “one-third of the world’s remaining tropical forests”.

Unfortunately runaway deforestation and land ownership conflicts threaten both the rights of local people and the long-term preservation of this irreplaceable biodiversity. It’s no surprise then that a stigma is often connected to Brazilian hardwood products in the European market.

There is still a huge amount of conservation work to do, particularly in containing the unregulated advance of the agricultural frontier and the illegal invasion of public land that leads to mass deforestation, but real progress is being made by forward-thinking areas such as the State of Acre in Brazil’s south-west Amazon “Ecoregion”.

Under the visionary guidance of state governor Jorge Viana, and with the support of agencies such as WWF, Greenpeace and the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), huge advances have been made in recent years to introduce a concept of sustainably managed forestry in line with the internationally recognised Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

This social and economic development includes:

  • resolving long-standing land ownership issues (granting legal rights to local inhabitants to benefit from sustainable forest management);

  • helping family groups develop into associations with improved production techniques for non-wood products such as rubber, Brazil nuts and oils;

  • establishing a system of sustainable commercial timber production, the first in a publicly-owned forest in the Brazilian Amazon.

Alongside the conservation groups in Acre, international wood products company Finnforest has been heavily involved with supporting the development of the sustainable forestry that Governor Viana hopes will act as inspiration for the rest of Brazil.

As part of the Metsäliitto Group, Finnforest has been able to offer a wealth of experience and expertise across the entire supply chain from forest to end user. Following the governor’s visit to Finland for example, Jorge Viana explained how the country was an inspiration for his work “because they realised a long time ago that the forest is a source of wealth, and if it is worked rationally it is an inexhaustible source. This is what we are dreaming for Acre: public forests controlled by the state and worked by industry”.

The partnership between Finnforest and the State of Acre continues with the support of WWF, Greenpeace, FSC and ITTO who all had representatives at a celebratory dinner in London last November as Governor Viana announced the first shipments of Acre’s FSC hardwood plywood to be delivered through Finnforest into the UK (TTJ November 26/December 3, 2005).

“We have been delighted to support the excellent work being driven through by Governor Viana in Acre,” said John Tong, managing director of Finnforest UK. “Finnforest will continue to support their efforts to ensure the long-term benefits associated with sustainable forestry are developed further.”

With 4.6 million ha of forestry being certified or undergoing certification in Acre, this is a significant milestone for the project and the start of a commercial relationship with Europe that will underpin long-term growth.

Forest & Trade Network manager for WWF, Steve Crewe commented: “WWF have been strong supporters of the Acre project for a number of years now, and we’re pleased to see a long-term commercial relationship being established that should encourage further regions of Brazil to take a similar approach to utilising and conserving their natural resources.”

Social development

As well as providing the necessary commercial support and experience to develop the European market for Acre’s FSC-certified hardwood products, Finnforest is working alongside a number of agencies to encourage social and educational developments in Acre, making sure the sustainable forestry practices are supported and managed by the local population.

The overall focus is on quality rather than quantity, ensuring that production facilities based here are supporting and not exploiting the indigenous population. Similarly they will be expected to use modern manufacturing methods to efficiently produce high quality products with a minimum of waste.

As Governor Viana explains, the people embracing these changes in Acre love their forest and want to protect it for future generations. The timber industry, promoted in the right way, will help them do that.