Eco-Positive Wood: A global market for smallholder wood from the South

Through The Fair Wood research project, the Eco Innovation Foundation conducted research on building a fair, sustainable, and competitive wood value chain based on natural tropical forests under the control of communities and smallholders.

Delivering the results of the study, Aaron Kaplan, Director at The Eco Innovation Foundation, said that the research was split into upstream and downstream components. Upstream research targeted smallholders and local processing facilities in different countries, using methods such as face-to-face interviews with forestry actors and visits to forests. Downstream research focused on forestry traders, manufactures, retailers, real-estate agents, and constructors.

“For the upstream research, we looked at the smallholder-based wood value chain that included locally controlled forestry enterprise and timber processing enterprises in Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Zambia; and for the downstream, we targeted traders in the national and international markets who interface directly with customers in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, and the USA,” said Kaplan.

He said the results found that upstream there were barriers as well opportunities in the value chain, and downstream the customers were more open to time-limited production or limited product lines when it comes to timber products and there’s also an interest in exploring other lesser-known forest species.

The EcoPositive Wood initiative

“We also found that inclusive value chains are rare and often not competitive in the global marketplace. That is why we believe that The Eco-Positive Wood initiative will help, as it aims to create such markets by launching a programme that supports the creation and scaling of value chains,” Kaplan added.

The next phase of the programme is to create a global market for eco-positive wood that will look at wood products from degraded forests in the South.

“We want wood products that support protection and restoration of rich and resilient forest ecosystems, and that have local people in control who value their forests; but we also want modern and scalable entrepreneurship thinking that builds societies,” he said.

The steps in the next phase will include identifying potential participants, assessing and planning with them, and looking at their business cases.

“In the upstream, we are looking at smallholder and timber-processing entrepreneurs who are motivated so we can do project co-planning with them and some business development. In the downstream side, we are looking at change-makers to form an internal cross-functional steering committee to develop project plans and objectives, and a solid business case,” he added.

Kaplan stated that the ultimate plan will be to see a market that could act as a powerful tool to reverse the alarming destruction of forests. Secure incomes allow smallholders to become agents of forest improvement by engaging in sustainable forest management.

“Ultimately, we want the smallholders to be able to grow and supply the market, contribute to forest protection and restoration, supporting the creation and scaling of value chains; but it is critical that it is also built on a solid business case,” he concluded.