New voices speak out on forestry, environment and FLEGT

25 January 2016

A technically aware, environmentally committed new generation in supplier countries is increasingly shaping the development of the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) initiative, and other forestry and timber sector legality and sustainability programmes worldwide. Mike Jeffree asked a range of them in VPA signatory countries worldwide about their views, outlook and aspirations. Here are the responses from Indonesia, Ghana and Honduras

The FLEGT VPA Project

There are currently 17 timber supplier countries at some stage of the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process, all of them tropical. Six are now at final implementation stage.

The aim of the initiative is to improve forest and timber supply chain management and curb illegal logging and trade. A VPA obliges the signatory country to establish a timber legality assurance system, under which forest operators and timber businesses are audited, plus supply chain monitoring and licensing mechanisms.

Once approved by both the VPA country's own authorities and the EU, the former can issue FLEGT licenses to timber and wood product exports, which are then exempt any further due diligence under the EU Timber Regulation. But the supplier country also has a range of other obligations.

These include ensuring their forest and timber sectors are more transparent and their rewards more equally shared. They also have to enable as wide a range of 'stakeholders', from local communities and NGOs, to small businesses, to be involved in everything from VPA negotiations, to monitoring the timber legality assurance system.

Numerous target dates have come and gone over several years for the arrival of the first FLEGT licensed timber in the EU. However, there is increasing optimism that it will happen in 2016, with probably either Indonesia or Ghana first to deliver.

Light through Indonesia's haze

Citra Hartati, 29, studied law in Jakarta and is now a forest governance legal researcher at the Indonesian Centre for Environmental Law and a civil society representative on the Joint Implementations Committee for Indonesia's EU FLEGT VPA

"Indonesia still has much to do to achieve fully legal, sustainable forestry and timber industries. We have 122 million ha of forest, but so far only 60% operates verified legitimately - and we experience the consequences daily.

My interest in these issues stems from growing up in Sumatra where there's been massive land clearance for oil palm plantations, often using fire. The result is aerial haze pollution so severe it forces airports to close and kids to wear facemasks to school.

Forest fire is just one issue. Others include illegal logging, corruption, and poor land use planning.

The root of these problems is poor governance and lack of transparency. The Indonesian government is now attempting to tackle the situation with new regulations and reforms. We're also seeing more stakeholder engagement capacity building and a healthy environment becoming recognised as a constitutional right.

There has been improvement in governance too through Indonesia's SVLK Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS). This has the capacity to ensure all timber and timber products are legally sourced, provided SVLK permits are effectively policed.

Indonesia's EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) is another positive development - a way for us to share best practice with EU countries to improve forest governance.

It's a pity FLEGT timber licensing is not yet in place, but the initiative is having positive impacts in Indonesia; encouraging stakeholder participation and building on the work of the SVLK.

The FLEGT programme continues to progress, but we in Indonesia would still like more information on key aspects of its operation. FLEGT-licensed timber, when it arrives will, of course, be exempt from due diligence under the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). So we'd like to know how well the EUTR is being enforced, as a strong compliance mechanism in the EU is a must for the success of FLEGT in the market place.

We'd also like to know how trade perceptions of FLEGT in the EU are developing. We have to consider the commercial aspects as well as the green line.

What are the market incentives to supply FLEGT licensed timber to the EU. Will it be prioritised and promoted by the EU trade and how will it be regarded relative to products certified under schemes such as the FSC and PEFC's?

There are responsibilities for both sides in the FLEGT initiative. VPA supplier countries like Indonesia must ensure TLASs are effective, while EU consumer countries must give market support to licensed timber and ensure businesses only buy legal.

However, overall I'm positive. It will take time to eradicate all the problems in the timber and forestry sectors, but we now have the tools to ensure every piece of timber Indonesia delivers to market is legal. Working together we can make Indonesia's tropical forest the most sustainable in the world. And if we set this example in environmental governance, other industries will follow.

We've experienced the results of poor environmental management. We owe it to our children to ensure it gets better than this."

Raising forest hopes in Honduras

Douglas Membreño, 33, lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He has a degree in International Relations and is now Projects Coordinator at the non-profit Democracy Without Borders Foundation, focusing on environmental issues and alleviating poverty in vulnerable communities through sustainable forest use.

"Honduras' Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU offers a great opportunity to establish truly effective governance in our forest sector. It will force the state to meet specific requirements to fight illegal logging and trade and ensure new control measures are developed with all society.

The main issue in our forestry and timber industries is lack of application of the law and institutional weakness. The result has been large-scale forest loss and an industry run for the benefit of a few.

I've gained experience of these issues at the Democracy Without Borders Foundation. I helped organize projects to empower and engage community groups in Olancho, a heavily forested department, but badly affected by illegal logging, and also worked on Honduras Forestry Law awareness raising.

The Honduras government has introduced new environmental protection and conservation measures to improve forest sector governance, but implementation has proved complex.

However the Honduras' FLEGT VPA, set for signing in 2016, should accelarate progress towards a forest sector that operates legally and fairly.

The key attraction of the VPA is that it includes mechanisms to promote forest governance and a fair deal for dependant communities. It is critical to develop sustainable forestry strategies that combine environmental protection with community support and generate income and security for local people.

At the same time, while the timber industry plays an important role in the economic and social development of the country and is a valuable source of employment and income for families in rural areas, all stakeholders must harness forest resources sustainably, under effective regulation and supervision.

So our aim, through the VPA, is also for forestry and timber industries to become widely recognised by all stakeholders as means for forest protection, conservation and resource development, working in the interest of communities, but under environmentally sound management.

Encouragement of stakeholder participation is now underway and civil society bodies are being engaged through 'environmental platforms'. Our objective is to support government to establish a viable, broadly supported VPA.

What we also need to do is motivate more active participation from young people by building environmental, forestry and timber topics into education.

For the development of the VPA, we also need to know more about the complementary regulatory actions of EU governments to halt illegal wood trade in their markets. This will show their support for our fight against illegal logging and encourage greater effort.

We also need to know what is being done to raise EU consumer awareness of the importance of buying legal forest products. This is also vital to underpin forest governance improvement in producer countries.

In ten years I'd like to see the VPA and our other efforts, to have resulted in widespread consciousness, from the people, through the timber industry to government, that forest resources are key to environmental and human welfare. In 20 years I hope we've eradicated illegal timber entirely.

Ghana's Green Goals

Kofi Adu Gyamfi, 27, lives in Accra, Ghana. A Forest Resources Technology graduate, he is now assistant district manager to the operations department of the forest services division at the Ghana Forestry Commission

"Ghana was once rich in dense forest and I vividly remember travelling beneath the dense closed canopy near my hometown.

But thanks to wildfires, agricultural encroachment, illegal mining and indiscriminate logging, the uninterrupted tree cover is gone. This, coupled with changing climatic conditions that led to devastating floods this summer, claiming 200 lives, helped resolved me to work ever harder for conservation, guardianship of Ghana's forests and overall environmental sustainability.

Nothing seems more important. Some feel best forest practice is to leave it untouched and explore other means for supporting its maintenance, such as through environmental services payment. However, with current domestic and international demand levels, sustainable management of forest for timber is essential for preventing its illegal destruction.

Our Government is working to encourage legal, sustainable forestry, with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Forest Fringe Communities (FFCs). Its 2012 forest and wildlife policy promoted accountability and transparency, balancing non-consumptive and consumptive forest use and timber production for domestic and foreign demand.

It approved a licensing scheme to regulate imports and exports and combat illegal trade, and launched the Forestry Commission (FC) Timber Validation Department to monitor supply chain control points via our online Wood Tracking System. The National Forest Plantation Development Programme also continues to develop.

Ghana is also making progress through global interventions such as the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative (REDD+) and its Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) with the EU.

I'm particularly interested in Ghana's FLEGT VPA as it reinforces existing timber industry governance systems and consolidates good forest practice through accountability and transparency.

At its heart is its Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS), which is set for possible rollout early 2016. There has been active stakeholder participation throughout its evolution, which should increase public confidence in the forestry sector and ensure officials are held accountable.

The VPA is also widely accepted by the forest sector as our best bet for guaranteeing future generations are left with more valuable forest resources than we inherited.

There is more to do. FFCs which directly interact with the forest, still need to be engaged more since they mostly continue to regard it as an open access, common resource. One solution could be to embed conservation, development and the forest into school curricula.

Ghana should explore potential funding for massive reforestation and afforestation projects too, plus community and private sector investment in plantation development.

My longer-term hope is that we at least halve Ghana's deforestation rate in the next two decades years. I'm optimistic about achieving this for two main reasons. One is our ongoing Plantation Programme. The other is the FLEGT initiative, which, coupled with existing forestry laws and regulations, will ensure due diligence in the sector, reduce illegal logging and help improve the integrity of our forest resources."

Citra Hartati
Kofi Adu Gyamfi
The Indonesian wood products trade
Education in Honduras about responsible forest use
Education in Honduras about responsible forest use
The Indonesian wood products trade
Douglas Membreño
Forest checks in Ghana
Forest checks in Ghana