Leading companies show that sustainable forest management is possible

20 April 2004, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sustainable forest management in the tropics is not an impossible dream, according to private-sector enterprises and organizations that assembled here last week.

The ‘International Conference on Sustainable Management of Tropical Forests – Private Sector Experiences’ was a joint initiative of the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia and the International Tropical Timber Organization. It brought together about 150 people representing logging companies, community organizations, governments and the environmental movement to review private-sector experiences in sustainable forest management in the tropics and to discuss ways in which such success stories could be expanded to other companies and community groups.

The conference was the culmination of a three-year, ITTO-funded project in search of private-sector success stories in the three tropical regions (Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean).

The project, which was implemented by the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia, sent questionnaires to 1766 concession-holders and other timber-harvesting entities to gauge their awareness of, commitment to and success in implementing sustainable forest management. A total of 206 responses were received, the results of which were compiled at the regional level.

This process was complemented by 14 detailed case-studies, which closely examined efforts by companies towards sustainable forest management and helped identify the conditions that enable and constrain such efforts at the local level.

For example, CIB (Congolaise Industrielle du Bois), a logging company operating in large forest concessions in the Congo, identified a range of factors that had led to the improvement of forest management there, including the adoption by the Government of Congo of new guidelines for the sustainable management of forest ecosystems, and a partnership with an international non-governmental organization, which was facilitated by a substantial ITTO project. Since 2000, the company has improved logging practices, assisted local people to benefit more from the timber operations and to adopt new farming practices, and designed a program to manage, monitor and protect local wildlife.

Pt Sari Bumi Kusuma, a logging company in Indonesia, also identified cooperation with and support from international organizations (including ITTO) as an important factor in moving towards sustainable forest management. Other factors include an entrepreneurial vision of management, linkages with processing facilities, and a good relationship with the local communities and local government forged through effective consultative processes.

A third company, Guavirá Industrial e Agroflorestal Ltda in the Brazilian Amazon, has adopted and is implementing a 27-year forest management plan consistent with the ITTO Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests and is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The company reported that an unusually homogenous mix of species in its 58,000 hectares of production forest had been an important factor in ensuring the financial feasibility of its operation: of the 24 potentially commercial species in these forests, one highly marketable species (Cedrinho) is present in volumes of 10-15 m3 per hectare. Moreover, harvesting is possible all year round (in contrast to most of the Amazon, where logging is possible for only 6-8 months per year), as the terrain is flat and population density is low.

In 1998, in partnership with the Sarawak Forestry Department and with technical support from a Malaysian-German cooperation project, Samling Corporation in Malaysia introduced sustainable forest management practices in a 100,000 hectare area in Ulu Baram, Sarawak. Pre-assessment for forest certification of this pilot area was conducted in September 2003 and the final assessment is scheduled for this year.

Despite these and other success stories it is evident that many obstacles must be overcome before sustainable forest management becomes widespread in the tropics.

For example, while many companies identified international assistance as an essential element for improvement, donor agencies are tending to decrease their contributions to sustainable forest management. No company indicated that the pursuit of sustainable forest management made their operations more profitable, although one suggested that employing best practices reduced risk and therefore increased the company’s value in the market.

Several companies identified illegal logging and illegal trade of timber products as threats, not least because they undermine the market for sustainably produced timber. Some noted that unnecessary bureaucratic procedures, such as the overlapping of regulations between state, federal and other government levels, were also obstacles to the adoption of sustainable forest management, as were corruption and the generally short-term nature of timber concessions.

Meeting the social demands of sustainable forest management is also a challenging task. It requires effective consultation and participation processes, which take time to establish, and new skills both in the company and the community, and can be complex and costly.

Regional summaries and the 14 case-studies will be published later this year. For more information contact Mr Amha bin Buang, eimi@itto.or.jp