Thinking Small is the Key to Big Success

7.6 million hectares of the world’s smallholder-owned forests are FSC certified. 


By Malika Kanatbek kyzy, Youth Correspondent for FSC General Assembly 2017

FSC has been working with the smallholders project for more than 15 years, getting new innovative ideas and implementing them into actions. However, the FSC smallholder programme has developed organically over time as adaptations of the large-scale FSC model. Approaches that are used for small-forest owners in one context do not always work in others. Therefore, the New Approaches initiative to smallholder certification was created. The goal of the initiative is to develop a modern, positive, hands-on, and rights-based approach to smallholder certification within the FSC system.

On 9 October 2017, members of the smallholder project held a side meeting at the FSC General Assembly 2017, where they shared current findings, latest developments, and their action plan.

“We are not going to start from scratch; we want to use and learn from the past experience, include some additional innovative thinking, and make a revolution,” explained Vera Santos, New Approaches Project Manager. She also added, “You might ask ‘what’s new?’ and one thing we completely believe in is that now the smallholders project has a truly global team which consists of members from all over the world.”

According to Satu Leppanen, Key Account Manager, globally there are 4,000 million hectares of forest land. The majority of forest land is owned by public authorities, their share being approximately 75 per cent. Another 11 per cent of global forest land area is owned by individuals and another 3 per cent by communities. Thus, communities own 550 million hectares of forest land. That indicates that there are hundreds of millions of hectares of forest land are owned by smallholders and only small proportion of them are FSC certified.

Of the 196 million hectares of FSC-certified forests, smallholders own 7.6 million hectares; however, this figure has not grown since 2015. From the experience of Africa and the global South, one of the main challenges is limited skills and knowledge.

Other parts of the world meet other problems. For example, in Finland smallholders use contractors to manage forest operations. As a solution to this, the New Approaches team presented the idea of contractor certification.

“Certifying forest contractors is not a new idea, it was first piloted in 2009–2012. It provided some good results, but there were inconsistencies in the way that pilot testing was done. It did not get included into the system just yet. We tried to engage with stakeholders, members, certificate holders, and they supported this idea,” said Lauri IIola, Marketing and Development Manager.

Lauri presented three potential scenarios for contractor certification within the FSC system:

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

Annah Agasha, East Africa Project Manager, presented a new scenario from a Southern perspective

  1. Start at the national level: in Eastern Africa, smallholders typically join formal forest grower associations.
  2. Start at the regional level: in Central America, it is common for smallholders to enter into informal and verbal contracts.
  3. Revisit the ‘Modular Approach Programme’, which emphasizes legal compliance as a first step.

The side event ended with questions and a feedback process. The New Approaches team promised to publish all the proposed solutions and decisions concerning the smallholders project later this month.