There are so many reasons accounting to this illegal business of forest products but experts believe that the problem is largely due to lack of awareness among locals on forest certification. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Tanzania Focal Person, Mr Severin Kalonga says that forest certification is a system of inspection and tracking timber, pulp and other forest products to ensure they have been harvested according to a strict set of guidelines.
The FSC is considered the most credible certification system to ensure environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests. He said that it is more than just which trees to cut as it also accounts for the social and economic wellbeing of workers and local communities. “Forest certification is one of the management tools that reward forest owners who practice sustainable forest management of the forest under their control. It controls illegal logging and promotes business-as-unusual activities,” he said.
He added that it is a process by which a third party provides an assurance that a forest manager, product, process or service conforms to pre-determined guidelines for sustainable management of forest resources. “It certifies that people responsible for a forest management unit are taking care of the property in a sustainable manner. It is an assurance to the consumer that the efforts are in place to ensure sustainable supply of goods and services,” he said.
Mr Kalonga believes that national certification initiatives would contribute to the enforcement of legal requirements and reduction in illegal logging at national level. “Again, it will promote sustainable forest management (SFM) in private and public forests. Forest certification will improve credible communication (accountability and transparency) to the public on forest management and enhance market share in the national’s income,” he said.
The Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) Project Manager, Mr Elinasi Monga say that the certification will only protect forests if the system is credible, adding that otherwise it is just a green label. He added that currently FSC is considered the most credible certification system to ensure environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests.
Explaining on what it takes during a forest certification, he noted that an interdisciplinary team of experts conducts an on-the-ground evaluation of the forest, assesses the management plan, and interviews people familiar with the operation. “The assessment considers ecological, economical, and social aspects of the operation. In this process assessment team is guided by standards developed to encourage activities that contribute to ecological, economical and social health. Annual audits assure compliance with standards,” he said. One of the principle calls for compliance with laws and FSC Principles, that forest management should respect all applicable laws of the country in which they occur, and international treaties and agreements to which the country is a signatory and comply with all FSC principles and criteria. The principle also requires that tenure and use rights and responsibilities to the land and forest resources be clearly defined, documented and legally established.
Indigenous peoples' rights is another area of focus where the legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples to own, use and manage their lands, territories, and resources is recognized and respected. To ensure sustainability, the FSC standards also emphasizes, environmental impact as the key area of focus where forest management should commit themselves to conserve biological diversity.
This is also aims at observing biological diversity and its associated values, water resources, soils and fragile ecosystems and landscapes. By so doing, maintain the ecological functions and the integrity of the forest. The management plan is also another prerequisite in the FSC principles where a management plan appropriate to the scale and intensity of the operations should be written, implemented, and kept up to date.
The forest managements are also required to clearly state their long term objectives and the means of achieving them. Mr Monga noted that it was a high time that local communities had certified natural forests under their ownership in a bid to benefit economically and boost person and the country’s revenue. He said that it is only through certification of natural forests that villages can legally conduct sustainable harvest and benefit economically.
He named the Mpingo Conservation Development Initiatives (MCDI) as one of the local organization made up of six villages in Kilwa District, Lindi Region and Rufiji District, Coast Region that have acquired certification from FSC. Mr Monga noted that the said villages are already benefitting for selling certified forest produce in competitive prices, adding that international companies are more interested in certified products given the fact that are risk free.
“Incentive from the selling of certified products brings direct benefits to the forest, such as protecting biodiversity, indigenous peoples' rights, worker’s rights, and areas of significant environmental or cultural importance,” he said. The WWF Forest Landscapes Coordinator, Mr Isaac Malugu said that Tanzania started way back in 2006 to formulate its own criteria and indicators for certification.
“It was agreed to have interim steering committee to take the lead in developing and drafting National FSC Standards. So far Tanzania has developed its own National FSC Standards, which have been field-tested and awaits approval by FSC International in Bonn, Germany latter this year, then we will start certifying our forests based on our own standards,” he said.
As of now he admitted that certification is very expensive, as only external certifiers are engaged raising a challenge for the country to train certification bodies and local auditors to reduce costs of certification. “Illegal trade in forest products is a big challenge, but as I said certification alone is one of the management tools. Good ethical buyers for certified wood will contribute in reducing illegally harvested forest products,” he said.