Our forests are under threat — here’s how they are certified

Source– The post is based on the article “Our forests are under threat — here’s how they are certified” published in The Hindu on 4th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS-3 – Environment – Afforestation

Relevance: Conservation and management of forests

News- The article explains the certification process of forests.

What is the meaning of forest certification?

It offers a multi-layer audit system that seeks to authenticate the origin, legality, and sustainability of forest-based products such as timber, furniture, handicraft, paper and pulp, rubber, and many more.

What are the better methods of forest conservation?

Forests should be harvested in a sustainable manner for the products. In fact, periodic harvesting of trees is necessary and healthy for forests. Trees have a lifespan, beyond which they die and decay.

After a certain age, the capacity of trees to absorb carbon dioxide gets saturated. Younger and fresher trees are more efficient at capturing carbon dioxide. The problem arises only when trees are felled indiscriminately.

What is the status of the global forest certification industry?

The three-decade-old global certification industry began as a way to establish. It depended upon independent third-party audits, whether forests were being managed in a sustainable manner.

There are two major international standards for sustainable management of forests and forest-based products.  One has been developed by the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC. The other is developed by Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certifications, or PEFC. FSC certification is more popular and in demand, and also more expensive.

Organisations like FSC or PEFC are only the developers and owners of standards like the International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) or Bureau of International Standards (BIS).

They are not involved in the evaluation and auditing of the processes being followed by the forest managers or manufacturers or traders of forest-based products. That is the job of certification bodies authorised by FSC or PEFC.

The certification bodies often subcontract their work to smaller organisations. PEFC does not insist on the use of its own standards. Instead, it endorses the ‘national’ standards of any country if they are aligned with its own.

Two main types of certification are on offer: forest management (FM) and Chain of Custody (CoC). CoC certification is meant to guarantee the traceability of a forest product like timber throughout the supply chain from origin to market.

What is the status of forest certification in India?

The forest certification industry has been operating in India for the last 15 years. Currently, forests in only Uttar Pradesh  are certified. They are PEFC-certified. These standards have been developed by the New Delhi-based nonprofit Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF).

Some other states too obtained certification, but subsequently dropped out. The Bhamragad forest division in Maharashtra was the first to obtain FSC certification for forest management.

However, all of these expired over time.

Many agroforestry projects, such as those run by ITC, and several paper mills too have forest management certification.

There are a large number of CoC certifications, but the dropout rate is 40%. As of now, there are 1,527 valid CoC certifications by FSC, and 1,010 that are suspended, expired, or have been terminated.

What are efforts by the government to develop India-specific standards?

The government has made efforts to define national standards for the management of forests.

Based on the recommendations of an expert committee in 2005, the Environment Ministry had asked relevant institutions like the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management to draw up national forest standards.

A draft Cabinet note seeking the government’s approval for setting up such standards was drawn up. However, the effort did not come to fruition.

When the NCCF came into being in 2015, offering PEFC certification in India, the Environment Ministry nominated an officer on the governing board. It gave it official legitimacy. But the nomination was later withdrawn.

Last year, the Ministry associated itself with FSC, by launching its new India standards.

The role of private certification agencies has come under sustained criticism. So, the Ministry has restarted efforts to develop official national forest standards.

The government says the indigenous system of certifications will be simple, transparent, and easy to adopt, even by small farmers and tree growers. The benchmarks will adhere to internationally accepted norms, but will take into account India’s national circumstances.

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