Open invitation to a smallholder revolution

“Let us work together to make a revolution!” Vera Santos, New Approaches Project Manager, kicked off the Monday afternoon session on New Approaches to Smallholder Certification with an invitation to join forces and make FSC certification more feasible for the many smallholders in the world. During the session new smallholder certification concepts were presented.

By Morten Brodde, FSC Denmark

Certification of small woodlands is crucial for FSC’s vision of Forests for All Forever. And FSC’s stakeholders and FSC itself wants a certification system that works for small forest owners. Despite many efforts over the past 20 years to make it easier for smallholders to become and be FSC-certified there is still a gap between FSC’s standards and the realities faced by smallholders.

The challenges are diverse

“Approximately 196 million hectares forest is FSC-certified in total. Only 7.6 million is owned by smallholders,” explained Satu Leppänen, Key Accounts Manager for FSC International and part of the New Approaches project team.

Based on experiences from Africa and the rest of the Global South one of the main challenges is limited skills and knowledge. Understanding FSC’s standards and implementing them is also a barrier for increased smallholder certification.

In other areas the challenges are different. In Finland the smallholders don’t harvest themselves, but use contractors to carry out forest management operations:

“The actual certification process for smallholders is extensive. I know because I’ve gone through it three times and it creates a lot of responsibility for the forest owner. You have the responsibility, but somebody else is conducting the management activities. So it might be hard for you to actually be sure that there is compliance in the management operations of that external partner,” explained Lauri Ilola, Marketing and Development Manager in FSC Finland.

Contractor certification is a key solution in the North

Besides giving an overview of the current certification challenges that smallholders face, the New Approaches project team presented concrete concepts that seek to address the challenges and give smallholders better access to the FSC system.

According to Lauri Ilola contractor certification is a key element that should be introduced in the FSC system:

“We have been learning from the pilot test roughly five years ago, we have had extensive engagement with the members, certificate holders and stakeholders and they agree that the contractors are the key, especially in the Global North.”

Lauri presented three scenarios where contractor certification is integrated in the FSC system in order to move parts of the certification responsibility to the people actually conducting forest management operations:

  1. Allow forest contractors to become members of forest management group certificates;
  2. Allow third-party forest contractor certification schemes as verification tool; and
  3. FSC develops an FSC forestry contractor certificate.

Stepwise approaches can make changes in the South 

Annah Agasha, East Africa Project Manager, presented a new solution from a Global South perspective: “The stepwise approach is one way to simplify the standards for the smallholders in the South, so they will start implementing the standards and getting into our system.” 

The solution is called continuous improvement and the idea is that certification requirements are implemented in a stepwise way. Other certification systems, including ISEAL, outside forestry are using stepwise approaches, for example within the agriculture and textile sectors, and indicators show that is has improved the smallholder certification uptake for them.

The solution of stepwise approach works in the way that smallholders have to meet a set of criteria called the “critical criteria” and start implementing continuous improvement criteria in order to be certified. The stepwise approach will be tested on a national and regional level in Africa and Latin America respectively.

Later this month the project team will publish a discussion paper with all the concepts, and the session ended with the team calling for feedback from all stakeholders so that the concepts can be further elaborated.