How can FLEGT truly address illegal logging?
My grandparents used to have a stuffed alligator that stood on a teakwood stand beside the gas fire in their living room. As a child I never thought anything of it, never asking where it came from. It is the same about so many of the things in our homes. We never think to ask: where did they come from? who made them? who benefited from their purchase? and who may have suffered in the process? These questions are particularly important for goods coming from tropical countries, including the Asia-Pacific region. This is especially the case for tropical wood products - with many coming from unknown and often from illegal sources.
Knowing the source of the wood products in your home is important because:
Millions of people rely on forests for their livelihoods. According to the World Bank, more than 1.6 billion people around the world depend to varying degrees on forests for their livelihoods. In the Asia-Pacific region this number is estimated to be between 481-579 million. Considering 70 percent of the region’s poor live in rural areas, this is significant.
Illegal logging is a massive problem and destroys the lives of many forest dependent people. In Indonesia it is been estimated that roughly 60 percent of all logging is illegal, in Lao PDR and Papua New Guinea rates are as high as 80 percent and 70 percent respectively.
Thankfully, numerous initiatives are trying to address the blight of illegal logging. One initiative is the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The Action Plan aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening the sustainability and legality of forest management, improving forest governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.
The Action Plan has two main pillars:
The FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) which is an agreement between the European Union and a timber exporting country to ensure that an effective system is in place to ensure that only legal timber products are imported into the EU.
The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) requires timber importers and traders within the EU to take appropriate steps to ensure legal supply chains.
RECOFTC, along with many of its partners (governmental and non-governmental), recognises that FLEGT-VPA can provide benefits on many levels – beyond addressing illegal logging. Positive dimensions are highlighted in a recent review of the effectiveness of the FLEGT Action Plan initiated by the European Commission and coordinated by the FLEGT Facility of the European Forestry Institute. The evaluation finds the Action Plan is a relevant and innovative response to the challenge of illegal logging and has improved forest governance in all target countries.
RECOFTC works on FLEGT-VPA projects in four (Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) of its target countries. For example, in Cambodia and Thailand RECOFTC, with FAO support, is working to create an environment where those doing the illegal logging, those affected by it and those trying to control it are able to discuss ways to stop it in an effective way that, that does not penalise local communities. One key area is through providing capacity development to civil society organisations to support effective participation in VPA processes. In Myanmar, RECOFTC, also with FAO support, works with International Alert to develop the capacity of key stakeholders, particularly government staff to manage forest conflicts in a sustainable manner. FLEGT provides a window of opportunity for efforts such as these. Governments and companies realise that Europe will no longer be a market for timber products if they cannot prove the legality of these products. They also realise that to do this, they need to strengthen forest governance.
The starting point of RECOFTC’s work in this area, as with all our work, is that any efforts to achieve sustainable forest management in the region must be based on recognising and promoting the rights of forest communities, including smallholders. This comes from the basic understanding that local communities know the forest best, depend on the forest the most, are the most effective forest managers and most importantly, have rights to their forests. The VPA process provides a great opportunity to address illegal logging if it is based on strengthening the rights of local communities. However, if it marginalises these rights, as many initiatives in the past have, then it will be surely doomed to fail, and will result in continued devastation for forests and forest communities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
For more information on RECOFTC’s FLEGT-VPA projects, visit www.recoftc.org/basic-page/transforming-forest-conflict