Driving Change in the Amazon



Posted on 22 September 2010  | 

By demanding FSC-certified wood, GFTN participants are helping to safeguard the world’s forests and the livelihoods that rely on them.

 Journeying through the Amazon forest frontier, Julia Griffin, B&Q’s Social Responsibility Timber Advisor, experienced firsthand the impacts of advancing responsible forestry on the rich biodiversity and communities of the world’s largest rainforest. For the first time ever, the UK’s largest home improvement retailer gathered its entire plywood supply chain together in Acre, Brazil’s westernmost state, demonstrating the influence that responsible sourcing has from the forest floor to the retail store.

“We all have a part to play and as one of the largest DIY retailers, we have a responsibility to ensure that our products are being sourced responsibly,” said Griffin. “Having just returned from the Brazilian Amazon, I am acutely aware of the influence that a commitment of this nature can have on safeguarding the world’s forests and the livelihoods that depend on them.”

In September 2009, B&Q became the first retailer to gain FSC certification for its entire supply of tropical plywood, which is sourced from forests in Acre. By certifying this chain of custody, B&Q ensures that those buying plywood, such as the building industry, can be certain that their purchase is not unwittingly contributing to the destruction of forests, habitats and the communities where the wood is harvested. This pedigree also allows B&Q to establish traceability throughout the entire supply chain.

Julia Griffin recently celebrated B&Q’s achievement—a global first as historically it has been difficult to secure FSC certification for this volume—by traveling to Acre with their timber supplier to meet the individuals responsible for producing the company’s plywood.

Producing Tangible Results

B&Q’s milestone achievement is rooted in Acre’s local community, where the local government has been integral in demonstrating to the nation and the rest of the world that legal and responsible forestry produces tangible and lasting results.

WWF, together with the Acre government, has been working with private landowners and local communities to responsibly operate and manage state-owned land. Acre is a story of success, proving that sustainably managed forests are not only environmentally and socially beneficial, but also economically advantageous.

“What we’re struggling with increasingly here in the Amazon is the forest being cleared for cattle ranching in addition to illegal logging,” says Estevão Prado do Braga, GFTN-Brazil Manager. “This means huge swaths of the forest are cut down to provide grazing land, as cattle production is seen as profitable.”

“Of course once that forest has been cut down, even if that land is left to regrow, it never fully recovers. To discourage mass clearing you need to demonstrate the commercial viability of the forest through its sustainable management, which is what we’re trying to do in Acre,” explains Braga.

Generating Value

With direct support from WWF, local communities in Acre formed Cooperfloresta, a forest cooperative designed to organize local production and establish market relations to sell the community’s timber. By helping these communities achieve FSC certification, WWF was able to demonstrate that it is possible to not only unite these communities behind a common goal, but also generate income from responsibly managed forests, providing a long-term alternative to cattle ranching. Historically, families in these forest communities received an income of roughly US$1,000 from cattle and brazil nuts. By responsibly managing the surrounding forest, they have quadrupled their income— making in excess of US$4,000 a year—demonstrating that this a model that benefits both people and the planet.

For instance, twenty-year old Valciclei da Silva, who lives in a small forest community in Xapuri, a town in Acre state, proudly shows off his newest acquisition—a brand new motorcycle, which he bought in October 2009. What once seemed like a distant dream has now become a reality thanks to the income obtained from forest management.

“Timber, rubber latex and Brazil nut sales have substantially improved the living of the entire community. People are now buying motorcycles, electronics, clothing, household items and improving their houses,” said Valciclei da Silva, a member of a small forest community in Xapuri, Acre. Many of the things we take for granted to make our lives easier are now accessible to people in Acre thanks to responsible forest management.

While communities like Valciclei’s are just beginning their journey towards sustainability—recognizing the value of the standing forests and protecting them from over-exploitation through responsible forest management practices—others are well on their way. The Cachoeira Settlement, a member of Cooperfloresta, has committed to managing their forests to FSC’s rigorous social and environmental standards, achieving and maintaining certification for the last eight years with WWF’s support.

Impact of Responsible Enterprises

Among the chief buyers of sustainably produced timber from communities like Cachoeira is Laminados Triunfo. Following through on a commitment to responsible sourcing, Jandir Santin, the owner of Triunfo is working to drive positive change in Acre’s forest communities.

In addition to having his own private forest, São Jorge, Santin also runs a mill that turns logs into plywood that eventually ends up on the shelves of B&Q. By sourcing from São Jorge and FSC-certified community forests, Triunfo enables B&Q to offer its entire supply of plywood under the mark of responsible forestry.

According to Santin, community-managed timber, besides contributing to forest conservation and the increase of family income in Acre, also provides excellent business opportunities.

“Triunfo is growing, even though tropical timber sector in Brazil is cooling off. In 2010, we will double production and will go from 400 to 700 employees in our Acre unit,” said Jandir Santin, owner of Laminados Triunfo, GFTN-Brazil participant.

He believes that the Triunfo’s ability to offer certified timber and partner with communities, government and NGOs has substantially contributed to the company’s growth during a time of global economic crisis. Similarly, by providing training and guidance to Acre’s first community-run forest, not far from his own, called Antimary, Santin is also ensuring that these benefits extend far beyond the walls of his operations and pour into the surrounding community.

Building Capacity

In Santin’s own private forest, São Jorge, there are 22 families residing there that previously had no other source of income. These families are now employed in the responsible management of this FSC-certified forest. Legally, within Brazil, Santin could harvest 30 cubic metres (6 to 8 trees) per hectare, but in his responsibly managed operation no more than 3-4 trees per hectare are cut. That means for every three football fields, only six trees will be cut down.

In exchange for a concession of 1,000 hectares of forest to supplement the FSCcertified logs coming from his own forest, enabling the expansion of his operations, Santin is helping to train the 55 families living within Antimary how to responsibly manage the forest. Generating an income for the first time this year, these activities are helping to create a sustainable livelihood for this forest-dependent community.

According to Santin, the approach being developed in Acre is the only way for the forests within Brazil to prosper, and he underscores the importance of commitments from responsibly-minded companies like B&Q to encourage growth of the sector.

“Creating a sustainable forest with an economic value that keeps it standing is the only way the forest sector can survive,” says Santin. “Just 20 years ago, there were 800 plywood mills within Brazil, whereas today there are only three or four. Their near extinction reflects the changing landscape as the surrounding forests are destroyed to make way for cattle ranging or soy plantations.”

Securing a Future

Santin emphasized the value of relationships with committed companies like B&Q and the importance of customers understanding the history of the supply chain when they buy a product made from wood and what it means not only for the forest, but also for the people that depend on it for their survival.

And it seems Santin has an ally in B&Q.

“We’re committed to helping suppliers, like Triunfo, on their journey as they progress towards certification,” remarks Griffin. “Our time spent in Acre has only served to strengthen this commitment and our resolve to replicate this model.”

“Visiting Acre has helped us understand the real differences that can be made when a supply chain shares the same vision. This vision is helping to secure the future of forests and the livelihoods of the community within Brazil by generating an income through its responsible management, and that is something we’re very keen to see replicated elsewhere.”
With each passing minute, an acre of the Amazonian rainforest is deforested, generally lost to conversion for agriculture.
© André Bärtschi / WWF-Canon Enlarge
"We all have a part to play and as one of the largest DIY retailers, we have a responsibility to ensure that our products are being sourced responsibly" Julia Griffin
© B&Q Enlarge
"Timber, rubber latex and Brazil nut sales have substantially improved the living of the entire community." Valciclei da Silva
© Bruno Taitson / WWF-Brazil Enlarge
Committed companies like Jandir Santin's Triunfo are helping to drive lasting change through responsible sourcing.
© JULIA GRIFFIN / B&Q Enlarge
Over 1,200 new species were discovered in the Amazon between 1999 and 2009, highlighting the need to protect the amazingly diverse forest ecosystems through responsible management.
© WWF Enlarge

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