Sharing the Risk and the Reward
Farming forest lands of up to 100 hectares in size, smallholders face a variety of challenges on the journey towards responsible forest management. From surmounting the financial hurdles of the costs associated with certification to possessing the business capacity and scale necessary to access international markets, the obstacles for owners and managers of small forest lands often makes certification a difficult and daunting task. But a group of 118 farmers in Vietnam’s Quang Tri province are showing that it is not an impossible one.
Uniting together across five villages in the two districts of Gio Linh and Vinh Linh, these farmers became the first group of small forest owners in Vietnam to be certified against the internationally recognized Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard for environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable forest management. Collectively, the Quang Tri Smallholder Forest Certification Group, with support from WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network, has achieved certification for 317 hectares of acacia, a species widely used in garden furniture.
By achieving certification as a group, the Quang Tri farmers were able to share the costs for certification—such as report-writing, travel costs of auditors and consultation with stakeholders—among all members, effectively reducing the cost per group member than if they had each individually applied for a FSC certificate. And this joint effort is starting to pay off.
The smallholders have already signed a contract with a GFTN-Vietnam Participant, who offered nearly a 25 per cent higher price as compared to the local market for uncertified timber. In addition, the farmers benefit from that fact that FSC timber is accepted with lower diameters that would have been previously sold as cheap, industrial chipwood.
Combined with direct sales from the farmer to the factory, without intermediate traders, group certification leads to an estimated 50 per cent higher income as compared with sales of uncertified acacia. This increased income is vital to the livelihoods of one of Vietnam’s most impoverished regions.
“As one of the poorest provinces of Vietnam, responsible forest management is a new way to stimulate the Quang Tri economy and therefore the livelihood of local communities. The FSC certificate is a credible trademark linking us to customers, both national and international,” said Mr. Nguyen Van X, Director of Quang Tri Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “We highly appreciate WWF’s support throughout the whole assessment process.”
Mr. Le Bien Hoa, team leader from Kim Mon, one of the five villages in the group, remarked on the impact that group certification is having on his community.
“Our incomes will be higher since FSC wood is increasingly preferred in the market. Secondly, the fact that we were guided to not harvest within 30 meters from the Kim Mon lakeside and river bank helps to protect us from erosion and sedimentation of the lake. Finally, our plantation and management skills have been greatly improved through training courses provided by the project staff.”
The vast majority of Vietnam’s 2.5 million hectares of plantation forests are managed by forest smallholders, most of them poor rural households. Since the late 90s, the demand for FSC-certified wood from Vietnamese furniture exporting companies has increased dramatically and to date, has been met almost entirely by expensive imports from overseas. However, the model demonstrated by the Quang Tri farmers shows that group certification is an effective solution for both Vietnam’s forests communities and the country’s burgeoning furniture industry.
“I hope that the WWF could continue their support for our young acacia trees. However, the most important thing is that Quang Tri authorities integrate sustainable forest management into the economic and social development plan of the province. Then small forest owners like us would, therefore, have access to long-term and efficient support,” Hoa added.
Vietnam’s forest strategy aims to certify 30 per cent of the country’s 4.48 million hectares of production forests in the next decade. As a result, there is a significant potential for the government, GFTN-Vietnam and the private sector to expand this pilot approach to a larger area, including WWF priority landscapes where the approach is highly suitable for management of biodiversity corridors.
“We are so proud to have the Quang Tri Group awarded FSC. After two and a half years, we have successfully piloted a group scheme for responsible smallholder acacia management in Quang Tri Province” said Mr. Sebastian Schrader, Project Manager and GFTN-Laos Manager.
“FSC certification has become an important element in the decision making process of consumers worldwide. As a market driven mechanism, FSC empowers consumers to express their demand in the market for responsible forestry by offering an independent, global and credible label for forest products. For Vietnam’s evolving furniture export market, FSC certification has already become a major factor for access to high value markets,” he added.
For more information, contact:
Sebastian Schrader (email@example.com)