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  • Scientists urge revision of sustainable forest product certification indicators

Scientists urge revision of sustainable forest product certification indicators

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An internationally recognized product labelling system designed to assure consumers that they are buying sustainably-sourced forest products is falling short of some of its intended objectives, according to new research.

Since 1994, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification framework of agreed indicators has encouraged companies to adhere to sustainable forest management practices, which are also aimed at simultaneously increasing financial profitability.

Companies follow guidelines to extract timber responsibly, reduce impact on forest ecosystems and help reduce land and soil degradation. FSC certification, one of the most widely accepted standards aimed at assessing long term sustainable forest management worldwide, is also designed to protect the rights of workers and indigenous people.

However, a study undertaken in Brazil by scientists with the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), published in the journal of Forest Policy and Economics determined that a lack of transparency and unclear reporting indicators restrict the reliability of the program.

“We found that in Brazil, FSC auditors and certification bodies don’t succeed in guaranteeing  companies are in full conformity  with labor and environmental requirements due to a lack of clarity on how standards are applied and conformity assessments administered,” said Marie-Gabrielle Piketty, who undertook the project as a researcher with the French Agricultural Centre for International Development (CIRAD). “Notably, there are really important and trustworthy agents in the certification system — everything relies on them, but we need to better understand the exact processes at stake.”

The country’s 6.2 million hectares of certified forests make up a significant amount of certified land area worldwide, more than in any other tropical country. Forest plantations make up three quarters of Brazil’s certified area, while the Brazilian Amazon includes 1.5 million hectares of certified natural forests.

FSC certification in Brazil is based on 10 principles, 55 criteria and an average of 200 indicators, which must be verified by external auditors, who report conformity and non-conformity, request corrective actions and determine whether to grant or revoke certification.

Read also: Can REDD+ help Brazil roll back rising deforestation rates?

Cattle farming is a key driver of deforestation in Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR

Piketty conducted the research with Isabel Garcia Drigo, who formerly worked with Nexus Socioambiental Ltda., a company which helps perform audits. She now works for the Institute of Forest and Agriculture Management and Certification (IMAFLORA). Together they reviewed public documents, conducted interviews, and undertook an analysis of indicators and “non-conformance” in audit reports.

“With FSC, we imagine a perfect system has been put in place, but it’s not perfect because it’s very, very difficult to comply with the standards,” Garcia Drigo said. “Being certified by FSC doesn’t mean you have perfect forest management — forests and forest management can be certified even with failures or imperfections.”

The goal of the researchers was to determine how auditors shape implementation and the amount of wiggle room that exists to interpret standards subjectively rather than objectively.

Some indicators are not open to interpretation, but others are, which means that the specific knowledge or judgement of an individual auditor can affect whether a company is certified or not. Some of the objective indicators are more difficult to check through auditing because they are too broad.

For example, one indicator includes informing workers and surrounding communities about the importance of forest management activities and their environmental implications. However, the statement does not define which information or methods of communication are essential and acceptable, Piketty and Garcia Drigo said.

Auditors can classify non-conformance as either a major or minor infraction, a major infraction can result in the suspension of certification but an act of minor non-conformance does not result in certification being revoked. They must be solved within a maximum period of a year.

However, Piketty and Garcia Drigo demonstrated that companies can be certified despite recurrent minor non-conformance. They recommend that FSC undertake a systematic review to identify areas where auditors have excessive freedom to interpret “conformance.” A limit should be set for allowable minor non-conformance concerns, they said.

Read also: Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

Although there is a rule to label them as major non-conformance if they are repeated, in cases where indicators are too broad or too difficult to comply with – for example, if they encompass multiple aspects or are dependent on three-part actions – auditors have room to allow the recurrence.

However, this potential demonstrates a permanent failure of the forest management system, and FSC needs to review such indicators by improving them or establishing a limit on time to meet full compliance requirements.

Another challenge is that the public FSC certification database only shows recent certification reports and non-conformance assessments. Conformance assessments are not published.

“We need to know how auditors assess that a company really does follow all the rules, Piketty said. “If we don’t have access, we just don’t know, we just have to trust and accept. Consumers of certified products need assurance that they have been made from responsible sources and are verified properly to meet appropriate socio-environmental standards.”

FSC recognizes the potential fluidity inherent in its auditing practices. In 2016, the organization conducted a review of life cycle assessment practices, which are often used to support sustainability assessment or rating systems. The review determined that although the life-cycle perspective is important for addressing the environmental impact of production processes, it should be complemented with other assessment tools.

By Julie Mollins, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

This work was supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR-11-CEPL-0009).

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Does soybean certification help to reduce deforestation?

Does soybean certification help to reduce deforestation?

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An aerial view of the Amazon rainforest, near Manaus, Brazil. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT

If hearing the word “soy” makes you think of tofu, edamame and soy sauce, think again.

Soybean is a “hidden commodity”, and most consumers have no idea how much of the legume they eat daily. Not only is it found in thousands of processed foods and products, from margarine and chocolate to cosmetics and soaps, rising demand for meat has driven soy production to nearly 10 times what it was 50 years ago.

A full 80 percent of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock. Much of it is produced in the Amazon and Cerrado ecosystems of Brazil, which each lose between 5 to 10,000 square kilometers of forest each year, despite public and private efforts to limit soy production to land that has already been cleared.

Today, 2 to 4 percent of global soy production is certified as responsible, representing a niche market of concerned consumers who are willing to pay more for products guaranteed to be emissions and deforestation-free. But do such guarantees actually reduce deforestation?

Not necessarily, according to recent research by the University of Bonn’s Center for Development Research and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which compared seven soy certification schemes in Brazil.

“We find that these schemes may be able to provide consumers with deforestation-free products, but they cannot generally safeguard against the negative impacts of increasing land footprints,” said Jan Börner, a CIFOR senior associate and professor of Economics of Sustainable Land Use and Bio-economy at the University of Bonn, who co-authored a policy brief that sums up the research results.

Although all seven schemes commit to preventing illegal deforestation and support the enforcement of national laws for natural ecosystem preservation on private properties, they may simply relocate sourcing patterns or provoke indirect land use change – which is known to occur but difficult to measure.

“As long as it is a niche market, you can source soy from already deforested landscapes and label it deforestation-free,” Börner said. “So consumers are eventually paying for something that is very easy to provide, but doesn’t actually reduce deforestation.”

Additionally, some studies argue that confining soybean production to already cleared land – which is widely available – is pushing cattle production to expand new pastures along the forest margins. By converting low-value pastures to high-value cropland, cattle farmers are benefiting from differences in land prices by selling high and buying low, reinvesting profits and effectively ramping up overall cattle production.

This causes a cascading effect of different agricultural land uses with time lags, making it difficult to point the finger at specific drivers of deforestation. If the construction of roads and highways needed to get soy to export markets is factored in, it’s estimated that as much as one-third of Amazon deforestation since 2002 can be attributed indirectly to soybean expansion.

Read also: Decoding deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia

Roads and cattle farming are two major drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR


Another factor that limits the spread of voluntary certification especially for bulk commodities is low cost-effectiveness. Certification costs are similar for most schemes, but the cost of implementing them can be prohibitive, depending on the supply chain model. A combination of high transaction costs and low price premiums lower the appeal for producers – especially smallholders – to invest in certification.

“For farmers who don’t have to change anything, it’s a no-regret effort to get certified,” Börner said. “But for those who would have to significantly adjust the way they operate, the premiums are too low to create the incentive to change.”

Therefore, the effect of certification is to simply shift sourcing to farmers who can provide deforestation-free soy at relatively little or no opportunity cost, rather than encouraging those who are actually driving deforestation to change their behavior.

“We’re talking about harnessing consumers’ willingness to pay for conservation, but we’re not doing that,” Börner adds. “We’re just channeling rents to different producers that happen to be deforestation-free, but this money is not actually reducing any deforestation.”

This is not to say that certification doesn’t work.

“It does work in some contexts,” Börner said. “In Indonesia, for example, FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] certification was shown to make a significant contribution to natural forest conservation. Tropical timber is different than agricultural crops, though. It is primarily sourced from forest landscapes, where the adoption of sustainable practices can make a difference.”

As such, the voluntary standards and certification may serve as a complementary strategy, but they all hinge on appropriate and well implemented national.

“If you’re not even able to measure whether people are complying with national legislation, how can you ensure standards are delivering what they promise?” Börner said. “These value chain governance measures cannot serve as stand-alone tools to avoid illegal or undesired forms of deforestation – they have to be implemented in line with existing policies that need to be strengthened.”

Read also: Deep down in supply chains, zero deforestation commitments look different to what appears on paper


The authors examine how responsible consumption initiatives could limit unsustainable expansion of soy production. Since voluntary payments such as certification are likely to remain niche markets, the scale of impact will be minimal unless these investments can be channeled into initiatives that can actually show impact.

For instance, if the willingness of consumers to pay for reducing their land footprint could be harnessed to finance direct conservation measures in areas threatened by deforestation, there is potential to make a big difference.

Based on this insight, Börner suggests that offsetting may be a more effective mechanism than certification.

For example, rather than paying a higher price for a certified soy product and having that money passed on to producers who just happen to cultivate soy without causing deforestation, consumers of products that are known to be associated with deforestation could be offered to support initiatives that demonstrate actual conservation impact on the ground.

“So you’re not guaranteeing the product is emission-free, but you’re guaranteeing that the extra money is actually going towards land-based emissions reduction,” he said. “Otherwise you’re actually blinding the consumer with a certificate that claims deforestation has been avoided, when it’s not actually the case.”

By Erin O’Connell, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Jan Börner at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Certifying Environmental Social Responsibility: Special Issue

Certifying Environmental Social Responsibility: Special Issue

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This Special Issue aims to contribute to the emerging science on how to maintain and rehabilitate biodiversity and ecosystem services effectively in the tropics where agricultural expansion has shaped the landscapes. Food production as a provisioning ecosystem service dominates direct economic value and employment in roughly half the world. Its sustainability, or lack thereof, depends on how the trade-offs between human activities and ecosystem services, beyond the provision of food, are balanced and managed locally and globally.

The Special Issue is a result of a research program by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). The program ‘zooms out’ from the details of certification schemes as such, and asks the broader questions of when, where and how certification responses arise to what types of issues, by whom they are initiated and what broader consequences they have.

The complete list of articles is:

  1. Environmentally and socially responsible global production and trade of timber and tree crop commodities: certification as a transient issue-attention cycle response to ecological and social issues
    Beria Leimona, Meine van Noordwijk, Dagmar Mithöfer, Paolo Cerutti
  2. Certify and shift blame, or resolve issues? Environmentally and socially responsible global trade and production of timber and tree crops
    Dagmar Mithöfer, Meine van Noordwijk, Beria Leimona, Paolo Omar Cerutti
  3. Tropical forest-transition landscapes: a portfolio for studying people, tree crops and agro-ecological change in context
    Sonya Dewi, Meine Van Noordwijk, Muhammad Thoha Zulkarnain, Adrian Dwiputra, Glenn Hyman, Ravi Prabhu, Vincent Gitz, Robert Nasi
  4. Discourses on the performance gap of agriculture in a green economy: a Q-methodology study in Indonesia
    Sacha Amaruzaman, Beria Leimona, Meine van Noordwijk, Betha Lusiana
  5. Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?
    Dagmar Mithöfer, James M. Roshetko, Jason A. Donovan, Ewane Nathalie, Valentina Robiglio, Duman Wau, Denis J. Sonwa, Trent Blare
  6. Harnessing local strength for sustainable coffee value chains in India and Nicaragua: reevaluating certification to global sustainability standards
    Dagmar Mithöfer, V. Ernesto Méndez, Arshiya Bose, Philippe Vaast
  7. Reviewing the impacts of coffee certification programmes on smallholder livelihoods
    Joshua G. Bray, Jeffrey Neilson
  8. Making a green rubber stamp: emerging dynamics of natural rubber eco-certification
    Sean F. Kennedy, Beria Leimona, Zhuang-Fang Yi
  9. Timber certification as a catalyst for change in forest governance in Cameroon, Indonesia, and Peru
    Sini Savilaakso, Paolo Omar Cerutti, Javier G. Montoya Zumaeta, Ruslandi, Edouard E. Mendoula, Raphael Tsanga
  10. Energizing agroforestry: Ilex guayusa as an additional commodity to diversify Amazonian agroforestry systems
    Torsten Krause, Barry Ness

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  • Local wood businesses find better global opportunities with sustainability certification

Local wood businesses find better global opportunities with sustainability certification

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Women carve wood side by side. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR
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Sitting in Mbak Njum’s tiny office in the coastal Central Java town of Jepara, Indonesia, talk was of exports, trends in furniture styles, cargo containers and logistics.

“Business used to be much better, and Western Europe used to be my biggest market,” said Mbak Njum, who has had her business since 1997. She added that Indonesian customers now make up 10 percent of her sales. A whiteboard in her office noted where else her items were headed: Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia.

Jepara’s economy – almost completely dedicated to wood products – has experienced booms and busts over the decades. The 1998 Asian financial crisis actually opened up its export market, but 2008’s global economic collapse meant declines and a pivot to local buyers.

Scientist Herry Purnomo from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has been working in the area for years, supporting the use of certified and legal wood and improved supply chains to benefit the town’s many small- and medium-scale enterprises, with research that forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

“Almost 30 percent of Jepara’s economy relies on furniture. If furniture disappears from Jepara, then the woodcarving culture will disappear too. Woodcraft carving and furniture-making are essential to Jepara and they need raw materials, and those raw materials are trees – specifically teak and mahogany,” he said.

Watch: Carving a niche in the global market: The woodworkers of Jepara


Just last year, Indonesia’s timber legality assurance system (SVLK) was the first in the world to be approved for the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) license, which allows legal timber and timber products to smoothly enter Europe’s markets. With this license, people are hoping for a boon for Jepara’s small businesses.

To say that Jepara’s economic life is centered around wood and woodcrafts would be an understatement. The town’s streets are littered with scenes of logs being loaded onto and off of trucks, women carving intricate designs at roadside stalls, men cutting and measuring slabs of teak, and a motley assortment of furniture available for sale at shops both large and small.

Pak Tafrikhan owns one of those stores, complete with a workshop in the back where his furniture is made and sold to Jakartans, and people in Dubai and Taiwan. Like any true entrepreneur, he is passionate about his craft and a keen observer of trends.

“My father’s principle was, don’t be afraid to make things; they’ll always sell. I still remember that message, so I never hesitate to produce. They’ll definitely sell because furniture has an extraordinarily wide-ranging market share. It depends on which segment we direct it towards,” he said, gesturing to an intricately grained teak coffee table of his own design.

Jepara has definitely cornered the market in Indonesia, so now the question is certification and licenses to expand. Many in the town aren’t yet knowledgeable about how to get their products certified, or are avoiding the levels of bureaucracy involved.

“Is the SVLK beneficial in financial terms? Perhaps it hasn’t been yet. But if this can be done, at least it will change the furniture industry’s culture in Jepara,” small business owner Pak Trisno said as the sun set at his warehouse.

Read more: New kid on the block in Indonesia’s timber export industry

Women carve wood side by side. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR


As a carved relief of the Beatles serenaded men wrapping coffee table tops and women prepping stools and chairs to be sent to Australia, a carving of Jesus laid hobbled on its side, waiting for the final touches of arms and a crucifix – and hopefully a church to purchase the finished piece.

Nur Hamidah, who had been carving a decorative wood piece together with a lively group of women along a small lane, said, “This is work we all have been familiar with since we were kids – this job is like our own family, it’s in our blood.”

Here, markets, certifications and international agreements are only the finishing touches to an industry based on tradition, passion and creativity.

“People have been using teakwood for centuries, and for hundreds of years it has sustained the lives of Jepara’s people. It’s given birth to many artisans; many great works. Carvings, reliefs and many things from these trees – from this teak – have been exported to many countries, and have made Jepara famous throughout the world,” Purnomo said.

Helping craftspeople out by giving them access to sustainable wood and markets is the next step, he added, and SVLK or FLEGT licensing can help with both.

“If we see these teak trees standing tall there is huge potential to preserve the furniture industry in Jepara. And on Java small-scale forestry is actually developing rapidly. Many people are planting trees because the industry is good on Java. We want this to continue so we can preserve Java’s forests with economic incentives,” Purnomo said.

Read more: Linking sustainable supply, inclusive business models and innovative finance

A woodworking student practices his craft at a workshop that doubles as a classroom. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR


In an interview at a CIFOR workshop on the topic, Inah Nuroniah, head of the Department of Industry and Commerce in Jepara, said, “Jepara now has approximately 1.2 million people, and the furniture industry is the central source of income. We’re now working together to look for ways in which the furniture industry can better support small enterprises now and into the future.”

As Pak Tafrikhan put it, “Jepara must return to its earlier creativity,” as well as utilizing the wisdom of people centuries before who planted vast forests of teak with specific knowledge of the best land to allow the trees to flourish.

“We really hope this business community can always be creative and innovative together. So we’re not left behind by other regions or other competitors, because we’re now in the era of globalization; there’s Vietnam, there’s China; maybe there are other countries too who are our competitors,” Nuroniah said.

“It’s these challenges that we must turn into opportunities; how we can improve performance into the future, improve quality, be more innovative, be more creative – together with the regional government we can do all of that,” she added.

Pak Trisno circled back to the forests themselves, the trees that are sustaining this unique corner of the world. “My long-term hope is for there to be wood so the timber, the raw materials can be renewed. So we should plant them as well – not just cut down and use trees.”

By Deanna Ramsay, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.

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  • For secure land rights, indigenous forest communities need more than just titles

For secure land rights, indigenous forest communities need more than just titles

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The native lands of the Tres Islas community are seen in Peru. Photo by CIFOR Photo/Juan Carlos Huay llapuma
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The native lands of the Tres Islas community are seen in Peru. Photo by CIFOR/Juan Carlos Huay llapuma

While securing a land title may be a key step for forest-dependent communities, it is not sufficient to ensure legal rights and improve livelihoods, study highlights.

Under Peruvian law, a title gives traditional forest communities rights over land, but resources on that land, such as forests, formally remain the property of the state. In order to use these resources, communities are required to follow additional procedures to obtain permits and authorizations.

This was the case faced by the indigenous community of Tres Islas in the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios – despite securing a land title more than 20 years ago, non-governmental organizations working in the region have reported that a large portion of the community’s territory is overlapped by mining permits.

Read also: Reclaiming collective rights: land and forest tenure reforms in Peru (1960-2016)

The law states that indigenous communities may be granted communal titles over agrarian lands, but rights over forests are limited to usufruct contracts – that is, the right to use, but not own, the resources found there.

Furthermore, while the government recognizes indigenous communities’ long-term-use rights over forestlands, it reserves the right to grant time-limited concessions to companies and individuals, for example for extractive activities such as timber or mining, often within the same territory. This inevitably leads to overlapping land rights and, sometimes, conflict.

In recognition of August 9 as the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. The Tres Islas Community video was produced by Yoly Gutierrez and Martin Balbuena.

In 2010, the people of Tres Islas decided to build a fence to keep out miners and loggers who had been granted permits to use land under their title without the community’s authorization. Community leaders thought that they were exercising their rights when they decided to limit access by outsiders, but instead their fence was destroyed, and they were sued and incarcerated.

After years of conflict, the community took their case to the Peruvian Constitutional Court and won, establishing a legal precedent that ensures protection of indigenous territorial autonomy and requires community consultation in any case that directly affects indigenous territory.

Read also: Long road ahead to indigenous land and forest rights in Peru

“The case in Tres Islas shows the challenges that many traditional communities face across the globe, where titles or formal recognition don’t fully ensure rights, tenure security or the improvement of livelihoods,” says Iliana Monterroso, a researcher who leads the Centre for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform in Peru.

An historical analysis performed as part of the study also shows that while governments continue to discuss reforms to simplify regulations, it is indigenous movements and non-profit organizations that have been instrumental in ensuring that communities receive technical support to comply with norms and establish a better position from which to benefit from the resources available in their forestlands.

“The findings suggest that continued support is needed to ensure that communities can develop the skills to take advantage of acquired rights. While a title or certification is very important, there are other things to consider as part of these reform processes,” Monterroso says.

By Yoly Gutierrez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Iliana Monterroso at or Anne Larson at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors

This research was supported by the European Commission and GEF with the technical support of FAO and IFAD.

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  • Certify and shift blame, or resolve issues? Environmentally and socially responsible global trade and production of timber and tree crops

Certify and shift blame, or resolve issues? Environmentally and socially responsible global trade and production of timber and tree crops

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Authors: Mithöfer, D,; van Noordwijk, M.; Leimona, B.; Cerutti, P.O.

Certification of adherence to social and environmental standards allows companies involved in the (global) trade of commodities to dissociate themselves from negative impacts in the public eye. It can go beyond compliance with legal requirements. Certification can be an attempt to shift blame to uncertified others, but it can also contribute to resolving the underlying issues of concern. We provide a framework for a study of when, where and how certification schemes emerge and evolve, with specific attention to the degree to which underlying issues get addressed. Three strands of literature are combined in this framework (1) the issue–attention cycle as a schematic representation of public concerns shaping policy responses; (2) the management swing potential defined as the gap between best and worst current production systems and the basis for defining standards and (3) global value chains that link distant producers and consumers, and the power relations along these chains, including standards and certification. Based on literature review, we introduce a set of four propositions that inform testable specific hypotheses. We outline questions for reviews, in subsequent papers of this issue, of the experience on timber, oil palm, coffee, cacao and rubber as tropical-forest-margin commodities dominated by global trade.

Publication Year: 2017

ISSN: 2151-3732

Source: International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management 13(1): 72-85

DOI: 10.1080/21513732.2016.1238848

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  • Brexit rattles Indonesia's timber trade prospects with Europe

Brexit rattles Indonesia’s timber trade prospects with Europe

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FTA communications

Photo by Murdani Usman/CIFOR
Unloading teak logs in Jepara, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo by Murdani Usman for CIFOR.

By Herry Purnomo, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Shortly after the British people voted on June 24 to leave the European Union, the country witnessed a change of prime minister and economic uncertainties radiated around the globe.

For timber traders and advocates of environmental sustainability in Indonesia, this development was a major concern. The country was about to clear the final hurdle toward getting the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) license for its timber trade. The license would allow Indonesia’s timber to enter the EU easily, bypassing strict EU timber regulation requirements.

This was made possible in April, when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo met European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels and agreed to smoothen the FLEGT licensing path for Indonesian timber.

The repercussions of Brexit may affect the terms of this licensing, but what is its likely impact on timber legality and the sustainability of forests in Indonesia? Sustainability and legality are main issues in managing forest and timber products; timber legality was thus discussed at the recent Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit held in Brunei from Aug. 3 to 5.

These issues are especially a concern in Indonesia, which has 69 million hectares of production forest, of which 36 million hectares are under forest concession permits. The 1945 Constitution mandates that Indonesia manage its forest and natural resources sustainably.

However, after 20 years of certification processes, Indonesia has only 5 million hectares of certified production forest under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Eco-labeling Institute (LEI) and the Program for Endorsement Forest Certification (PEFC) as stated by the Indonesian Forest Certification Forum, but these voluntary schemes have not worked optimally to create sustainable forests.

In 2003 the government initiated a mandatory Timber Legality Assurance System (SVLK) to reduce illegal logging — the result of an agreement between Indonesia and the EU. Currently, 4.6 million hectares of concessions, 500,000 hectares of community forest and 1,908 timber industries have been SVLK-certified.

With Brexit, there will be at least two types of impact on Indonesian forests: economic and political.

Economists predict Brexit will slow down the UK economy as well as those across the EU and China. Indonesia’s timber exports to the EU reached US$609 million in 2015, but with Brexit they could shrink by 2 percent, $12 million, this year.

It could see additional reduction if Chinese demand for Indonesian timber drops, as China is the main timber exporter to the EU. This is not the whole story. The domino effect of a Brexit fallout can lead to conservative spending and cutbacks that could see reduced investment in Indonesia’s timber industry.

If this happens, the government’s optimism in being able to raise exports of its timber products such as furniture, pulp and paper and plywood, valued at $11 billion through FLEGT licensing could now be a dream. Jokowi, a former furniture businessman, had an ambitious plan to boost furniture exports from $1.8 billion to $5 billion in 2020.

If realized, it would improve the livelihoods of millions of small-scale furniture producers and craftspeople in a country where 98 percent of furniture making is done by small and medium enterprises.

The UK, as a main sponsor of the SVLK initiative through its multi-stakeholder forestry program, is a strong supporter of this program in Indonesia. As a result, Indonesia benefitted from the significant backing of EU countries, led by the UK, in the FLEGT process.

After Brexit, there are doubts about the UK’s political influence to push through this FLEGT licensing process among SVLK stakeholders in EU member states by the end of this year.


First, Indonesia should continue to improve forest governance regardless of international assistance and pressure; this can be understood as working toward stipulations in the 1945 Constitution to implement sustainable development.

Second, Indonesia can provide more support for forest certifications such as the FSC, LEI and PEFC that are independent of a state or bloc.

The government needs to endorse voluntary forest certification by providing more economic incentives to those certified, which could then attract others to join the process. More funds need to be allocated to help small-scale forestry comply with FSC, LEI and PEFC standards.

Five million hectares of certified forest after 20 years of certification in Indonesia is not good at all. Indonesia needs to double or triple this figure in the next five years.

Encouraging more investments into sustainable practices will boost exports of forest products to meet Jokowi’s goals and support the millions working in small and medium scale enterprises.

Third, talk with the UK on its timber market to manage the impact of Brexit and deepen engagement with Germany and France to access the timber legality market in the EU. Since timber legality is required by many countries, there could only be more incentive for Indonesia to obtain global recognition for this.

Timber legality is just one step toward ensuring the sustainability of Indonesia’s forests and reducing carbon emissions, conserving biodiversity and improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent people.’

*This article was originally published in the Jakarta Post

For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Making timber certification work for local markets

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Timber certification can have negative impacts on local industries. In this video, CIFOR Scientists working under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry presented their research in Kalimantan, Indonesia, to help the government formulate suitable local regulations.

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