Forest certification for community-based forest enterprises in Brazil's Western Amazon: stakeholders' perceptions of negative and positive aspects of certification and how to improve the certification process
In recent decades community forest management has been a popular strategy in programs aimed at assisting local populations to conserve their forests and improve their livelihoods. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is being recommended for community-based forest enterprises (CFEs) as a way to improve market access for their products. However, certification has proved more difficult for CFEs than expected, and few certified operations have achieved its highly anticipated market benefits. This has led to questioning of certification's compatibility with CFEs. This study investigates perceptions of certification for three CFEs in Brazil's western Amazon. The specific objectives were (1) to determine the negative and positive aspects of certification as perceived by community members, their principal support organizations, and other key stakeholders; (2) to identify the relative importance of these perceived negative and positive aspects, (3) to analyze the differences in perceptions between actors, and (4) to identify actors' suggestions for improving the certification process for CFEs. Data were collected through structured interviews and a review of pertinent documents. Overall, the most positive aspects were economic and social, and the most negative aspects concerned the certification process and, to a lesser extent, the associated economic expenditures. The perceived importance of these aspects varied among the informants. For example, the community members typically scored the positive aspects higher and the negative aspects lower than the support organizations. This is likely due to differences in the roles and vantage points of these actors. The recommendations for improving the certification process included (1) simplify the certification standards and procedures for CFEs, and (2) better prepare certifiers to work with CFEs. In general, the informants agreed that the positive aspects of certification outweighed the negative ones. This stands in sharp contrast to communities in other parts of Latin America that are contemplating dropping certification. Brazil has made increasing its number of certified CFEs a priority, and has taken important steps towards this end. Two particular enabling conditions may have helped the operations in this study overcome common constraints for CFEs: (1) membership in a regional producers group, and (2) strong political, technical, and financial support from the state government. These three operations serve as important references for the rest of the Brazilian Amazon, as well as the globe. Their experiences highlight the need to adapt the certification process for CFEs and demonstrate that obtaining market benefits is possible. A wider application of certification in CFEs stands to benefit communities, forests, and consumers.