Forest Certification in the Amazon

Forest certification began with NGOs in the early 1990s largely as a mechanism to address tropical deforestation and illegal logging. In the forests of the Amazon basin, only a small number of forestry operations are certified, but various programs of certification, legality verification, and related reduced impact logging work to ensure sustainable forest management.  

Worldwide, certification programs such as the FSC have been more successful in North America and Europe than they have in tropical forests. In late 2013, only 7% of FSC worldwide certified acres were found in South America; an equal amount of certified area is found in the tropical Andes (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia), as in Croatia – 2 million hectares. Barriers to adoption in the region include high cost of certification and uncertain market benefits, weak governance and lack of enforcement of forestry regulations, and weak network of conservation organizations in several countries. In fact, weak enforcement of a country’s forestry regulations such as in Ecuador has been found in some cases as a condition to inhibit adoption of certification. In some observed cases in Bolivia and Brazil, forest certification receives a price premium in the marketplace, although the premium is often temporary and restricted to certain high value forest products. In other cases, certification does not fetch a price premium but permits greater market access. Trade of mahogany, the most valuable wood in the Amazon forests, is illegal in Brazil, and restricted under CITES in other countries (see mahogany page). In addition to these uncertain benefits, the price of meeting certification standards is often high, especially for small and community forestry operations. Brazil and Bolivia, countries with greater timber export orientation, have had greater adoption of certification for reasons of market access. In these countries, clearer forest regulations and enforcement also facilitated the adoption of certification. Networks of donors, forestry professionals and conservation organizations also encourage adoption.

In Brazil, many certified operations are in the plantation forests of the southeastern states, outside of the Amazon basin. About half of all timber production in Brazil comes from plantation operations. One of the first CERFLOR certified operations (the Brazilian national certification program) was a pulp plantation of International Paper in the southern state of Paraná. Some of these certified eucalyptus plantations in Bahia, on the northeastern coast of Brazil just outside of the Amazon basin, have been criticized for clearing natural forest and displacing local farmers. In the Brazilian Amazon, certified forestry operations have been few, not only because of the economic challenged described above, but also by the convoluted land registry that makes it difficult for forest owners to obtain and prove legal land holding. Certification of new companies was halted in 2006 and not re-opened until 2012, one in Para and another in Rondonia. Certified operations in Peru include Green Gold forestry in Loreto, Peru, Consorcio Forestal Amazonica in Ucayali, Peru. For community forestry operations, certification is often difficult as paperwork and procedure can sometimes be long and costly. Although some groups have had success combining FSC certification with Fair Trade Brazil nut production, CIFOR researchers find certification is often incompatible with community forestry. Imaflora, a Brazilian NGO that advocates sustainable forest management, manages a Social Fund for Certification, to assist communities in the path towards certification.

Today, forest certification in the Amazon basin goes hand in hand with forest legality programs, which aim to stem the trade of illegal timber, both domestically and internationally. In Brazil, city governments such as the city of Sao Paulo have been caught purchasing large amounts of illegal Amazon timber; many of these governments now cooperate with NGOs to prevent illegal timber. The Amazon Alternative is a public-private partnership designed to coordinate producers and consumers, based on timber trade within Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru, as well as between the Amazon region and Holland and other countries in Europe. The Amazon Alternative seeks to improve market access for certified forest products, thus increasing demand for sustainable forest management. Similarly, groups such as the Forest Legality Alliance, the Amazon Alternative, and the Global Forest and Trade Network of the WWF work to bring together various stakeholders to reduce illegal wood and build demand for sustainable timber.


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