Side event Tuesday 8.30 AM – Mediterranean forest
FSC Non Timber Forest Products: The key to safeguarding Mediterranean forests?
Mateo Cariño Fraisse, Forest and Climate Services Coordinator, NEPCon, and Anne-Sofie Forfang, Communications Manager, NEPCon

There is a clear push for FSC-certified non-timber forest products (NTFPs) as a means to bring value to the products of the delicate Mediterranean forest. This ideally needs a pull from the market. But what comes first, the chicken or the egg?

zoom (© FSC A.C.) © FSC A.C.It seemed a wild idea to many when the Rainforest Alliance/NEPCon teamed up with WWF to make possible the first FSC cork stopper in the market ten years ago. Today we know that this helped many foresters to keep income flowing in – and thus keep forests standing despite the synthetic/cork stopper war and the economic downturn, which were both threatening Spain’s cork production industry.

A fine-tuned balance

Mediterranean forests are multifunctional, semi-natural systems providing an amazing range of products such as honey, resin, aromatic plants, wood, cattle, pine nuts, cork, game, mushrooms, and the acclaimed ham produced from free-roaming Iberian pigs, among others. These products are extracted through extensive traditional methods in a finely tuned balance, in which these human activities are essential for maintaining the fragile ecosystem.

In addition, these forests provide numerous other ecosystem services – a new area that the FSC is currently exploring. These include, among others, water, recreation areas, carbon storage, biodiversity and an economic basis for local livelihoods.

Unfortunately, these precious forests are under various threats, and the lack of economic incentives for continuing traditional natural resources practices is one of the key issues.

Need for adaptation

During the dedicated side event yesterday, several people raised the difficulties of adapting the FSC system to match the conditions of the Mediterranean forest, with is multiple use of natural resources.

The FSC forest requirements mainly target timber extraction, and the Spanish national standard doesn’t yet cover all the NTFPs that are harvested in Spain. However, this will be addressed as the Spanish standard is aligned with the new FSC principles and criteria. Also, some of the current forestry requirements don’t match the conditions found in these forests.

Yet the live discussions demonstrated that FSC is already well designed to overcome obstacles. For example, NTFPs that are not yet covered by the national FSC forest management standard can still be certified based on the certification bodies’ own interim standards.

The various FSC National Offices and other actors present at the event expressed their support for making it happen. A representative of Greenpeace Spain said, “We have to walk together to find synergies. You have the support of environmental NGOs to do this work.”

Mobilizing the market

Nevertheless, as raised by Dr Davide Pettenella from FSC Italy, what’s the point of certifying an NTFP if there is no demand for it? What comes first, the chicken or the egg? The previous day’s smallholders meeting proved that FSC is making moves to provide coordinated marketing platforms, as seen in the ongoing made with heart campaign, for example.

In addition, the FSC system includes various successful mechanisms for linking producers and buyers, such as WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network. But is this enough? Several comments addressed the good news story about Mediterranean forest products creating commercial success, following the approach that has so successfully brought cork stoppers back on the market.

According to FAO, the Mediterranean Region has over 75 million hectares of forests and wooded land across 31 countries. Yet they are under increasing pressure from humans, whose needs are growing and shifting, as well as stresses due to climatic changes including temperature increases, reduced rainfall and prolonged periods of drought.

As a member of the audience said, Mediterranean forests are “the paradigm of a sensible relationship between humans and environment”. Isn’t that in essence what FSC is all about?