Opinion & Analysis

FSC certification for countries in the global South
Patrícia Cota Gomes (IMAFLORA) (Forestry Engineer)

PATRÍCIA COTA GOMES, 41 years old, a forestry engineer who holds a Master’s degree in forest management, is the senior coordinator at Imaflora and has been working for approximately 13 years in the implementation of FSC certification for indigenous communities and peoples in Brazil.

zoom (© FSC A.C.) © FSC A.C.In addition to containing the greatest biodiversity of the planet, tropical forests are also home to a great diversity of traditional communities and indigenous peoples who have historically acted as guardians of these immense areas, playing an important role in their protection. It is calculated that in Brazil alone around 30 percent of the whole Amazon territory is in the hands of indigenous communities and peoples and that there are approximately 305 ethnic groups in the country who speak 274 languages.

A large number of these peoples have a deep-seated relationship with the forest environment; over the years they have gathered a comprehensive body of traditional knowledge of how to manage and use natural resources, passing this on from generation to generation. It is this knowledge that is the basis for the social and cultural propagation of these peoples.

Traditional management methods are generally combined with the use of multiple products, thus reducing the demand for and pressure on a small number of species; they are carried out on a scale that has a low-level impact on the forest and its biodiversity.

Nevertheless, these peoples, faced with the ongoing history of pressure and threat to tropical forests around the globe, have expressed an urgent need to find financial mechanisms that would help them to keep their traditions, their way of life and traditional management methods alive.

However, the history and culture of these peoples, as well as their contribution to the conservation of forests, are still not well known or recognized by society in general. Nor are their products accessible to the various markets that would be capable of recognizing and placing a value on the socio-environmental services they provide.

The majority of these products end up being sold at informal markets via various intermediaries and for a low price, thus conferring little financial benefit on these communities. Without other available options and given that the use and commercialization of these forest resources are generally the main source of income for the majority of these peoples, the inhabitants are frequently forced to abandon their lands in the search for other opportunities, leaving these areas open to invasive occupation and deforestation. Meanwhile, other types of non-forestry use as well as illegal or predatory uses which contribute to deforestation have often proved to be more attractive and profitable for these peoples than traditional products extracted with little impact on forests.

FSC plays a fundamental role in supporting indigenous communities and peoples

Against this background, FSC plays a fundamental role in supporting these indigenous communities and peoples to continue protecting their forests via economic incentives that recognize the contribution made by these peoples to responsible forest management.

In recent years, FSC has taken significant steps in this direction, working with the main stakeholders to identifying some of the main barriers of the certification system to this group. These barriers include technical limitations in view of the high level of complexity the system poses for this group, with inflexible procedures, policies and standards that are not relevant for this situation, which interfere with traditional management methods and which have proved to be inappropriate for evaluating the contribution of these peoples to responsible management. Another barrier is financial, depending on the degree of isolation of many of these peoples and the small scale at which these products are handled, with resulting high costs (direct and indirect) for the certification process – in some cases costs are higher than the income generated through bringing certified products to market.

In order to find alternatives to some of these barriers, FSC has been developing a series of initiatives and mechanisms to simplify and promote certification of indigenous communities and peoples around the globe. Nevertheless, despite these numerous efforts, activities have so far proved insufficient to bring about a change in the current scenario, namely, that of a gradual reduction in indigenous and community-based certifications which currently only represent 7 percent of certificates issued worldwide.

In order to ensure that this change occurs effectively and at a sufficient scale, FSC will have to show it is prepared to thoroughly review its system so that genuinely innovative mechanisms can be developed. This requires new procedures, requirements and technological instruments for the appropriate verification of cultivation, scale and the impact of management carried out by these peoples so that FSC will finally be able to measure and demonstrate effectively to society the contribution these communities are making to responsible forest management.

Finally, at this time when FSC is discussing a new strategic plan for the next ten years, it is an appropriate moment to create a basis for a long-term strategy so that FSC can become known as a system capable of contributing to the conservation of tropical forests, reducing the rate of deforestation and lowering poverty levels by promoting the livelihood of communities that live and depend on forests for their survival.