Certification in complex socio-political settings: looking forward to the next decade

Submission date
Richards, M.
Working Paper
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To date the application and impacts of forest certification on sustainable forest management (SFM) objectives in these regions have been limited in comparison with progress in temperate and boreal forests. Certification initiatives have been largely donor driven as markets in these regions are weak. Too much has been expected too soon of certification, especially in situations where policy, market, and governance failures make SFM very difficult, particularly for natural forest management. Certification has had more success in Latin American countries like Bolivia and Brazil that have undergone key policy and regulatory reforms and that have developed the democratic space for more effective civil society participation (these can be thought of as the "pre-conditions" for effective certification). Experience shows that certification is unlikely to be effective as a carrot without "sticks" (without the governance pre-conditions to generate a supply of sustainably produced products) or if used as a regulatory stick without sufficient demand or market incentives in place (i.e., compulsory certification). Establishing a more level domestic market playing field by reducing illegal logging and the (often large) gap between current and certified forest management standards provides the basic conditions for certification. Country comparisons also show that a balanced set of national actors and donors working concurrently on certification and the policy and governance "pre- conditions" is more likely to achieve concrete progress than when isolated donors focus mainly on a certification agenda. There have been important non-market benefits in countries which have undergone a national Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification standard setting process, as in Brazil, Bolivia, and Malaysia, especially the encouragement of a more participatory forest policy process. The national standard-setting process together with political reforms like decentralization has helped create the political space for raising social and environmental issues around natural forest and plantation management and forest industry, for example providing forest access to local people. There have also been important social benefits to local communities and forest workers in certified concession areas, for example, in the area of health and safety standards, since certified forest management unit (FMU) standards are generally above those demanded by national legislation and regulations. On the other hand, certification has proved difficult for the majority of community forestry enterprises (CFEs). This implies that modified certification approaches or models are needed that respond to the needs and characteristics of community forestry. This is particularly important in complex socio-political settings where forest tenure of local communities is being recognized or forest administration is devolving. Also, attempts to promote FMU level certification outside a national FSC standard-setting process, as in Malaysia and Indonesia, have been problematic. In countries with poorly defined land tenure rights and a high degree of centralization in forest authority and decision-making, upholding the full range of standards, including social standards, has not been successful. Natural tropical forest management faces particularly difficult challenges. Many markets, including those proximate to these forests, are not yet demanding certified products nor are they willing to pay a green premium for more expensive management practices. The lack of markets for lesser-known species creates an economic problem for tropical forests with high levels of species heterogeneity; these need to be harvested along with higher value commercial species, both to fit ecological management standards and to make SFM viable. The high cost of audits and documentation for complex ecologies, combined with limited markets for lesser known species, needs to be offset by compensatory payments for environmental services or other green market mechanisms. This inherent economic problem for certification of tropical natural forests inevitably means that the certification process has to be supported initially by some subsidy, whether directly or indirectly. Subsidized certification is theoretically justified by the significant environmental benefits at stake which are not at present recognized by the market. The fact that certification is a relatively new market-based instrument can also justify this subsidy, but can create problems for long-term progress towards SFM if this creates a perverse incentive against sustainably produced forest products in the marketplace.

Subject Keywords
Roads, Forests, Certification
Forest Type
Natural Forest
Forest Zone
Effective date
Review year