The buzz on green supply chains

There’s plenty of talk these days about “sustainable” or “green” supply chains and how these could help save forests while benefiting producers and consumers. But what are they? 

In this edition of the TFU, ITTO Executive Director Gerhard Dieterle (page 3) writes that green tropical-timber supply chains “would bring benefits to all stakeholders, from forest owners in the tropics to consumers of the final products—as well as to the global environment”. Businesses might want to implement green supply chains because they are good corporate citizens, but, according to a recent workshop in China (reported in Dr Dieterle’s article), the private sector also sees green supply chains as a means for reducing costs and increasing efficiency. 

Putting the pieces together

Sustainable forestry has much to offer at all scales, from the household to the planetary. Certain non-renewable resources will become scarcer in coming decades, but the demand for materials is likely to continue to escalate. There could be a resources crunch—but forestry can help avert this while also providing crucial environmental services. 

Know your timber

The sustainable conservation and use of forests—sustainable forest management, to put it another way—requires an intimate knowledge of the resource and its governance. This edition of the TFU presents articles aimed at increasing knowledge on tropical timber so as to ensure the conservation of certain tree species, promote the legality of forestry operations, and add value to products in the international marketplace.

On page 3, Tereza Pastore and co-authors report on an ITTO project to develop a wood identification technique to assist in monitoring the mahogany trade. The technique involves the use of hand-held nearinfrared spectrometers, and it has proved effective in field trials.

Holding the ground on mangroves

Mangroves are among the Earth’s most productive ecosystems and they produce many goods and environmental services. When sustainably managed, they can support the livelihoods of millions of coastal people while storing globally significant quantities of carbon and reducing the vulnerability of coastal regions to storm surges and other threats.

The area of mangrove forests is decreasing in many tropical countries, however, due to poor management and increasing demand for coastal lands for development. A high priority for the global community, therefore, is arresting mangrove loss and restoring degraded mangrove ecosystems.

All is not lost

Despite the best efforts of many, tropical forests continue to be cleared (although there are signs that the rate of loss is decreasing). Inevitably, this means lost biodiversity, the emission of previously stored greenhouse gases, and the diminution of many ecosystem services. Nevertheless, there is cause for hope. In this edition of the TFU, ITTO’s new Executive Director, Dr Gerhard Dieterle, speaks about the potential of forests to address global challenges, and ITTO’s role in this.

Flying under the radar?

Throughout the tropics, the wood sector provides hundreds of thousandsof people with jobs, including in artisanal operations that can go unnoticed in official statistics but which are crucial employers in rural areas. In this edition of the Tropical Forest Update, Paolo Cerutti and co-authors (page 3) report that artisanal chainsaw millers in Côte d’Ivoire—mostly young people seeking to become financially independent—produce at least one-quarter of the country’s domestic wood supply and probably much more; there is also substantial cross-border trade with neighbouring countries.

Council appoints new head of ITTO

Measures that add value

An important aspect of sustainable forest management is ensuring that forest products and services generate sufficient financial returns to pay for the upkeep of the forest. Many tropical timber-producing countries seek to add value to their raw products as a way of increasing export revenues and generating employment and a skilled workforce. This edition of the TFU takes a look at work being done to encourage value adding in the tropical forest sector.

Getting it done locally

Evidence is growing that local communities can be excellent managers of forests—to the extent that policies on land tenure, markets and other factors allow. In this edition of the TFU, two articles describe the outcomes of four ITTO projects where the focus was on building the capacity of communities to restore their lands and sustainably manage their forests and on creating the enabling conditions for them to do so.

ITTO and CITES: an enduring partnership

In 2004, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) began considering capacity-building efforts to assist countries in implementing the growing number of timber species listings in the CITES Appendices. In early 2005, the CITES Secretariat invited the ITTO Secretariat to collaborate in a joint programme, and the two secretariats worked closely to develop and complete a proposal for donor consideration. Beginning in late 2006, the European Commission (EC), together with other donors, funded the proposal through ITTO’s 2006–2007 work programme. This special edition of the TFU presents some of the outcomes of work undertaken as part of what is now known as the ITTO–CITES Programme for Implementing CITES Listings of Tropical Tree Species.

Forests rise to the top

Just before this edition of the Tropical Forest Update went to print, a historic agreement on climate change was struck in France, and forests are now at the very top of the global environmental agenda. In the Paris Agreement, almost all the countries of the world agree to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Testing the mettle of tropical timber

Tropical timber is locked in a battle for market share with substitute products such as non-tropical woods, metals such as aluminium, and plastics. Tropical timber has many fine features—such as durability, aesthetic appeal, and strength—but its competitors also have saleable qualities.

Putting a brake on wildfire

The huge fires that burned in Borneo in the early 1980s rang alarm bells among tropical forest managers and fire experts. Moist tropical forests, once thought immune to devastating wildfire, were going up in smoke, with huge negative effects on human health and forest sustainability.

Heavy rains finally extinguished the fires, and ITTO launched a programme aimed at encouraging integrated, community-based approaches to tropical forest fire management.

Moving beyond conflict on procurement

Public timber procurement policies have been a hot topic of debate among governments, tropical timber traders and environmental groups for a very long time. Environmental groups argue that tropical timber-importing countries can lead the way to sustainable forest management by buying only certified or at least legally verified tropical timber; timber-exporting countries say that such procurement policies give non-tropical timber an unfair market advantage; and traders worry about the cost of conforming to new standards. Public timber procurement policies, therefore, are a divisive issue in international forest policy. 

Going Downstream

Over the years, ITTO has funded many projects and activities aimed at supporting the development of sustainable, value-added timber-based industries in tropical countries. The establishment of local timber-processing (“downstream”) industries can benefit countries in many ways, such as by providing employment, contributing to government revenues and encouraging sustainable forest management and the development of timber plantations. In this edition of the Tropical Forest Update, we examine some of ITTO’s efforts to assist its member countries in going downstream. 

Life after 50

The International Tropical Timber Council is turning 50—that is, it is about to convene in its 50th session. The Council is ITTO’s governing body, and it has achieved much since its first session in Geneva in 1985/86. This special edition of the TFU features interviews with nine Council chairs, from the early days of the Council through to the present, as well as with the chairs of the Trade Advisory Group (TAG), the Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG) and a representative of the host city, Yokohama. We ask interviewees about the challenges the Council has faced over the years, its achievements, its strengths and weaknesses, and what its role might be in the future. 

Earning more from forests

Many people make a good living by harvesting and processing timber and non-timber forest products, but a great many more are poor. A key task for forest policymakers, foresters and extension agencies is to enable forest-dwelling people to earn more from forests. This edition of the TFU looks at the role of forests in livelihoods. Ewald Rametsteiner and Adrian Whiteman (p. 3) present an article summarizing FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2014, which surveyed the socioeconomic benefits provided by forests.

Paying our dues

People are accustomed to benefiting from tropical forest environmental services for free or at minimal cost. We use the clean water tropical forests deliver, take for granted their function in absorbing and storing carbon, and exploit their biodiversity in agriculture, the pharmaceuticals industry and forestry.
The time has come, however, for the world to start paying for these environmental services-or face the consequences of losing them. An underlying cause of tropical forest loss is that agriculture out-competes forest as a land use, and, as a result, tropical forests continue to be cleared or degraded. On the other hand, demand for tropical forest environmental services is increasing: expanding cities need more drinkable water, biodiversity is increasingly seen as an essential resource for ecotourism, science and agriculture, and climate change due to rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases looms as a global calamity, which can partly be mitigated by maintaining healthy tropical forests.

Indicating progress

The founders of ITTO faced a challenge shortly after establishing the Organization in the 1980s. They had negotiated a far-reaching international accord to promote sustainable forest management (SFM) in the tropics, developed guidelines for SFM, and undertaken a ground-breaking study that determined tropical SFM was almost non-existent. But they had no way to measure the progress they hoped and expected would be made in the future towards the Organization’s overarching goal. This gave rise to discussions about the need for a way to measure such progress and ultimately led to the publication of ITTO’s Criteria for the sustainable management of natural tropical forests nearly 25 years ago. 

Sustainable forest industries

The tropical forest industry has had its share of bad press,unfortunately sometimes deservedly so. While the negative stories of unsustainable practices seem to always garner the most attention, an equally compelling case can be made for the transformative effect forest industries can have on tropical economies and sustainable development.

Keeping Track

Foresters and forest planners have always needed to know the location of timber resources, including for planning forest management and harvesting operations, for monitoring wood flows to mills and ports, and for marketing of forest products.


Just as tropical forests renew themselves, so has ITTO. On 7 December 2011, the International Tropical Timber Agreement 2006 entered into force, ushering in a new era for ITTO. This issue of the TFU, the first to be published after the entry into force of the ITTA 2006, celebrates this new beginning.

Mapping mangroves

Mangroves are highly productive, biodiversity-rich forest ecosystems adapted to survive in the harsh interface between land and sea. They provide resources such as timber, firewood, thatching materials and a wide range of other products, they serve as habitat for fisheries, and they help protect coastlines from tsunamis, storm surges and erosion. But they are under threat. An estimated 35 600 km2 were lost between 1980 and 2005, and the annual rate of loss between 2000 and 2005 was 0.66%. 

Fellows for SFM

The lack of human capacity has been identified as a key constraining factor to sustainable forest management (SFM) in most of the diagnoses and analyses to assess progress towards SFM carried out in ITTO member countries over the past quarter century. One of ITTO’s most effective contributions to addressing this constraint has been its Fellowship Program, among the Organization’s earliest and most successful initiatives and probably the world’s only such support program focused specifically on tropical forests and their management.

Owning forest in Asia

Forest-tenure reform is coming to Asia. It has already arrived in China—there, 58% of forests are now owned by communities. Asiawide, just under one-quarter of the total forest estate is owned by communities and indigenous groups, and another 3% is designated for use by them

Status of Tropical Forest Management 2011

 In 1987 the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) commissioned a survey of tropical forest management in its member countries, which was published in 1989 (Poore et al. 1989). It concluded that an insignificant proportion of the world’s tropical forests was managed sustainably, although some—but not all—of the conditions for sustainable management were present in a much larger area. In 2006 ITTO published a second survey (ITTO 2006), which used 2005 as its nominal reporting year and found significant although far from sufficient improvement. 

The transboundary transition

Conservation across borderlines is an idea whose time has come.Nowhere is this more clear than in the Condor Mountains, where a transboundary conservation area (TBCA) between Ecuador and Peru has not only improved relations between governments, it has empowered the region’s Indigenous peoples—Wampis and Shuar, among others—to strengthen their cultural identities, renew cross-border family ties and seek new livelihood opportunities.

Biodiversity is life

The world’s ecosystems provide environmental services we simply cannot live without. As an integral part of nature, our fate is tightly linked with biological diversity, i.e. the huge variety of animals, plants and microorganisms that live in mountains, forests, oceans, wetlands and other ecosystems. We rely on this diversity of life to provide us with essentials such as water, food, fuel and medicine. Yet each day an estimated 150 species disappear, many due to human activities.

Assessing achievements

Evaluating progress towards an organization’s goals or objectives is not easy. It requires a clear baseline to start such an analysis from, a good understanding of how outputs contribute to objectives and a willingness to examine faults and weaknesses as rigorously as positive achievements.

Procuring Favourably

Timber procurement policies have evolved rapidly in recent years. Spurred by concerns over illegal logging and unsustainable forestry (often in the tropics), policies restricting purchases to legal and/or sustainable timber have proliferated. Such policies were initially adopted by developed country 


Owning Africa’s forests

Getting a lock on governance

Sustainable forest industries

A litany of sins has been laid at the doorstep of the tropical forest industry, too often deservedly so. From illegal logging to contributing to civil wars, from human rights violations to corrupting governments, it is easy to find reports casting significant blame for these and a myriad of other ills on the forest industry. However, like most generalizations, this one is at best only partly true.

Climate changing for tropical forests

This issue of TFU is published as substantial levels of assistance start to flow to some tropical countries through various climate-related initiatives. This is indeed a welcome development for these countries. As ITTO and others have pointed out for many years, it was always unrealistic to expect one (usually under-valued) resource – timber - to fund the bulk of the costs tropical countries incur to sustainably manage tropical forests and maintain the myriad benefits they provide.

Strengthening diversity

Eleven years ago an article published in Scientific American sent shock waves through the tropical forestry community. Entitled Can Sustainable Management Save Tropical Forests?1, the article made a compelling case for the failure of sustainable forest management (sfm) in the tropics, primarily in terms of its inability to (up to that point in time) safeguard tropical forests’ immense biodiversity.

African Promise

Africa has long languished at the bottom of most global league
tables of economic, social and environmental development.
The reasons for this are many and inter-related but include
poor governance, instability and civil strife, inadequate public health and
education, undiversified and poorly managed economies and a lack of public
and private investment in all kinds of infrastructure.

Tapping the potential of communities

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A rubber-tapper in the Antimary State Forest, Acre, Brazil.
Photo: R. Guevara/ITTO

For a week in July 2007, the Brazilian city of Rio Branco, in the heart
of the Amazon, became the community forestry capital of the world.
Participants from 40 countries came together to explore the emerging
phenomenon of community-based forest enterprises (CFEs)—dynamic, smallscale
businesses that are starting to tap the huge wealth of entrepreneurial talent
that exists in forest-dwelling Indigenous and local communities.

Into the sunset?

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Photo: A. Compost

Most countries with significant forest resources have, at one time or another, heard their timber sector referred to as a ‘sunset’ industry. This is usually the case when other economic development options present themselves that can appear more dynamic and profitable than turning trees into boards. The rapid developments underway in the climate change negotiations and the coalescence of several new partnerships to provide funds to countries for averting deforestation (see TFU 17/2) have led some observers (and some tropical countries) to see carbon credits and related funds as a new dawn for the conservation and sustainable development of tropical forests. While there is unprecedented momentum (for which the World Bank and other partners, who recently announced a $300 million fund for averted deforestation, are to be congratulated), it is germane to consider the development of other ‘new dawns’ for tropical forestry that have been announced over the past couple of decades.

The road forks for tropical forests

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Photo: A. Sarre

Tropical forests are approaching a fork in the road, both in the way they are managed and, more importantly, in the way that their management and conservation is funded. In terms of management, ever larger areas are being devolved to some form of community tenure. According to advocacy groups like Forest Trends and the Rights and Resources Initiative, policy shifts to recognize traditional and indigenous rights have resulted in a doubling of community-owned and administered forest lands in developing countries over the past two decades, to around 370 million hectares of natural forest.

CITES branches out

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Photo: W.H. Wust

Beginning in 1992, concerted efforts began to list wide-ranging and economically important timber species in the CITES Appendices, the most notable being afrormosia (Pericopsis elata, listed in Appendix II in 1992), bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla, listed in Appendix III by several countries since the mid-1990s and in Appendix II with effect from 2003) and ramin (Gonystylus spp, listed in Appendix III by Indonesia since 2001 and in Appendix II with effect from 2005). Appendix II listing means that exports of specified products made from these timber species (primary products for the first two but all—including secondary—products of ramin) require certificates from any exporting country stating that the export of those specimens would not be detrimental to the species' future survival in the wild. These so-called non-detriment findings (NDFs) are essentially confirmation of the sustainable production of exports of these timber species, providing a clear link between the requirements of CITES and the work of ITTO.

A legal matter

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Photo: SGS

One of the most serious obstacles to sustainable forest management (SFM) in many ITTO member countries is illegality in the extraction of forest resources and the trade of forest products. With the international community as close to consensus on the meaning of SFM as it is ever likely to be (all active SFM criteria-and-indicators processes now use the same seven thematic areas), attention has shifted to defining an equally contentious concept: the legality of forestry operations. This edition of the TFU examines this issue.

Tight straits for the trade

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Photo: M. Adams/ITTO

The tropical timber trade is beating against the current. Prices (particularly for plywood) might be on the rise after several years in the doldrums, but the policy environment in which the trade operates has never been tougher. This edition of the TFU looks at some of the issues.

How deep does your cash flow?

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Photo: G. Wetterberg

Economic viability is one of the three basic tenets of sustainable forest management (SFM). SFM might be perfectly feasible technically, but it will still fail if the enterprises that are supposed to be implementing it struggle to make ends meet.

One big problem is the availability of finance. Banks are reluctant to lend to timber operators, particularly small ones. The bottom line is that small businesses stay small, with the ever-present possibility of shrinking away to nothing. Larger enterprises might be more resilient, but they might also find best forest practice elusive if they continually have to pay high rates for their capital. Who is going to invest in natural tropical forest management? Articles in this edition of the TFU explore this question.

Special edition: Status of tropical forest management 2005

This special edition of the Tropical Forest Update summarizes Status of Tropical Forest Management 2005, a report by the International Tropical Timber Organization. It discusses the nature and asseses the reliability of available data; determines, as far as these data allow, the extent of the permanent forest estate in each ITTO producer member country; examines, for each country, the policy and institutional settings for the adoption of sustainable forest management; estimates the area of forest that is actually managed sustainably for production and protection; and discusses how the situation has changed since 1988, when the first survey was conducted, and the significance of these changes for the future. It finds that significant progress has been made towards the sustainable management of natural tropical forests, although the proportion of the total permanent forest estate under such management is still very low.

The full report can be obtained by contacting ITTO or by downloading it from the ITTO website.

The cutting edge of SFM

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Sustainable forest management (SFM) has always been a goal of foresters. The trouble is, the concept of SFM has changed. Once, foresters learned mainly about sustained timber yield—how to calculate it, measure it and achieve it in the forest. Now, the profession has many more concerns: biodiversity conservation, community involvement, and a rapidly changing marketplace, to name only a few. In the tropics, the forestry profession is beset with problems ranging from illegal harvesting and disputed land tenure to the high profitability of alternative land-uses and competition in international timber markets. Given the changing nature of the challenges facing SFM in the tropics, international treaties set up to meet them must also evolve.

Liberia's great thirst

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Photo: N. Sizer

Recovering from two recent civil wars, Liberia is in tatters. One of the world's poorest countries, its people live an average of less than 50 years. Its unemployment rate of 85% is reportedly the highest in the world. Even in Monrovia, the capital, basic services such as electricity, clean drinking water and health care are scarce or non-existent; people have a daily struggle to survive. If ever a country needed development (preferably of the sustainable variety), Liberia is it.

This edition of the TFU presents the findings of a recent ITTO diagnostic mission to Liberia. According to the mission, forests could play a big role in the country's recovery, providing employment and foreign exchange, both of which are essential if the country is to rebuild and move towards sustainable development.

Maybe we should talk

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Photo: Martin Puddy/Getty Images

Foresters need to become better communicators; we need to talk more. This doesn't mean more international meetings (we probably need fewer of those), it means talking with communities so that we properly understand their concerns.

In this edition of the TFU we explore the emerging concept of forest landscape restoration (FLR). It's not just about techniques that work in a nursery or along a planting line; most importantly it is about the roles, rights and responsibilities of stakeholders and how these can be discerned and accommodated by restoration initiatives.

Why so glum?

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Photo: C. Vega, Conservation International

Frogs aren't well known for their sense of humour, but they might need to develop one in coming decades. Perhaps more than any other order of animals, frogs and toads are under threat--from phenomena like climate change and habitat destruction and a mysterious fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Several rainforest species have gone missing in recent years and others are becoming rarer: according to the recent Global Amphibian Assessment, 1653 of the 5067 known frog and toad species globally are either threatened or extinct.

This edition of the TFU is not about frogs. But these moist and vocal creatures are as good a symbol as any of the challenges facing advocates of natural tropical forests.

Responding to disaster

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US Navy photo by Phillip A. McDaniel

The staff at ITTO would like to convey its sympathies to all readers affected by the tsunami that hit Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, the Maldives and other countries in December 2004. Like most people who watched in horror as the full extent of the destruction became apparent, we want to help in the recovery process in the coming months and years.

Seat of power?

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Photo: A. Compost

The corridors of power are located mostly in parliaments and palaces and the central business districts of major cities, and not many of us get to walk them. But policymakers, including those in the forest sector, increasingly talk of decentralisation, the process of transferring power from a centralised source to local governments, local communities and other stakeholders.

How to win their trust

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Trust is a rare and precious resource, tough to win, easy to lose and difficult to give. It has a pretty low currency in these restive times, many of us not daring to trust our politicians, our generals, our accountants or even, sometimes, our neighbours. Can we trust our

The prospects for plantation teak

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Photo: A. Compost

Teak has a centuries-old reputation as the king of timbers. It is highly durable, easily worked, attractive, strong and relatively light. It has been used as both a structural and decorative timber in the temples, palaces and houses of the Indian sub-continent for perhaps 2000 years, where its durability has been proved: though popular with priests, princes, carpenters and the common man, termites and fungi tend to shun it.

As short-rotation teak plantations spring up around the tropics, how will this new kind of teak fare in the timber markets of the future?

The future of forestry

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Photo: Rukmantara

"The ability of a country to follow sustainable development paths is determined to a large extent by the capacity of its people and its institutions..."

This statement is taken from Chapter 37 of Agenda 21, the blueprint for a sustainable future produced by the Earth Summit in 1992. It might seem blindingly obvious, even tautological. But more than a decade on, the international community continues to grapple with the theory and practice of capacity-building in sustainable development, and how it can best assist countries to do it.