But seeing the opportunity was one thing: realizing it was quite another. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification has been around in China since the start of the century, but most of China’s certified area is made up of large state-owned or collectively owned forests. By contrast, many of the smallholders around Linyi owned less than a hectare each, and didn’t have the capacity or the money to pursue certification on their own.
With support from WWF and IKEA, a major buyer of timber products from the area, the Linyi Forestry Bureau set about designing a programme that would enable small growers to become certified collectively. But first, they had to convince the farmers to take part.
“We set up a company to promote certification to local farmers, organize workshop training and provide professional guidelines case by case,” Chen explains. At first, they encountered scepticism. “Why should we certify the trees?” wondered poplar farmer Zhang Zaijun, when the bureau first approached him. FSC certification requires following a set of principles that can be demanding. But you could sell timber at a higher price, the bureau explained, and it could lead to increased yields while also maintaining the health of plantations and the environment.
“Why certify the trees?”
It sounded too good to be true, so Zhang went to see the owner of a local plywood factory who he sold his wood to. “He told me FSC was very popular and enjoyed large markets,” Zhang recalls. “He said, ‘if you get FSC certified I’ll pay you 15 per cent more for your trees, and I’ll buy them all, no matter how many you have."
Zhang went straight to the Forestry Bureau and told them he was on board. He persuaded another 30 smallholders in his village to follow his example and manage their plantations according to FSC principles. Officials from the bureau repeated the same process in village after village, talking to thousands of smallholders and running more than 30 training sessions. “Local foresters increased their awareness about maintaining the health of plantations and the environment, wildlife protection, and reducing use of dangerous chemicals, pesticides and diesel,” says Chen.
Growing successThe work paid off. In 2012, more than 4,000 households from 64 villages around Linyi achieved certification – the first and largest group certification in China. The FSC assessment was partly paid for by timber businesses in Linyi, which were keen to build a local supply of certified timber.
Since then, the programme has continued to grow – more than 20,000 smallholders around Linyi are now involved. As well as receiving a premium for the FSC timber they sell, farmers are reporting larger yields and lower costs as a result of adopting more sustainable management practices. Zhang now keeps rabbits within his plantation, providing an additional income and a source of organic fertilizer for the trees. Having eliminated the use of harmful pesticides, other smallholders are raising goats, poultry and edible mushrooms.
Although the demand for FSC timber remains largely export driven, Chen believes the domestic market offers growing potential. “Environmental awareness is growing in China, and we hope that as the domestic market for FSC certified timber increases, we can attract more and more participants and increase economic returns for smallholders,” he says.
Better Production for a Living Planet Series
We’re committed to continuously increase the share of wood from more sustainable sources - currently FSC-certified and recycled - in our products. As one of the world’s largest timber buyers, we know we can use our influence to transform timber markets. It´s inspiring to see that this can yield concrete benefits for even the smallest timber growers in China.
- Negative impacts on habitat, ecosystems and species loss, water shortage, soil erosion and carbon emissions (deforestation causes more carbon emissions than all global transport)
- Land right issues with local communities.
- Over 400 million people live in or near forests, and up to a billion of the world’s poorest people are dependent to some extent on forest resources for their survival.
- Important conservation benefits from reduced illegal logging and forest degradation.
- Improved governance, ensuring sustainable forest products on the global market and better livelihoods.