The rising importance of Agroforestry, Sustainable Forest Management, and Forest Certification

Dr. Ajay Kumar Saxena, Deputy Director, NCCF

Trees in forest and agroforestry systems play very important roles in our lives. Agroforestry is rising in importance for reducing pressure on natural forests as well as tackling climate change. At the same time, after its evolution since Earth Summit in 1992, forest certification as a system to ensure Sustainable Forest Management is being increasingly adopted worldwide. The two major global forest certification schemes i.e. FSC and PEFC are helping nations ensure SFM through their different but complementing approaches. The forest certification also complements, and has synergies, with the emerging UNFCCC regime for tackling climate change. India, a country with progressive agroforestry and SFM policy framework, has huge potential for utilizing forest certification for filling the forest management gaps and meeting the rising demands for certified wood. Forest certification can also help meet India’s NDC targets in the present times of converging sciences and practices of forestry and agroforestry.

A. Importance of Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry
The importance of trees in our lives needs no explanation. Forests have been cradles of life and civilizations on earth since antiquity. Even after ancient human beings moved out of forest habitats and started agriculture, they never eradicated trees and retained a variable number of trees on their agricultural lands in a plethora of formal and informal agroforestry systems – as recognition of various ecosystem services trees provides. Trees in forests and agricultural landscapes play a crucial role in almost all terrestrial biomes and provide a range of goods and services to rural and urban people.
Later in 1993, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) with a mission to bring scientific knowledge to bear on major decisions affecting the world’s tropical forests and the dependent people was established with headquarters at Bogor, Indonesia. CIFOR arose out of growing concern that emerged from the Rio Earth Summit and other international dialogues about rapid deforestation and its associated social, economic, and environmental impacts. CIFOR was established as the 16th research center of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The CGIAR is made up of public and private-sector organizations devoted to improving agriculture and natural resource use in ways that reduce hunger and poverty among people in developing countries without causing environmental damage. The two organizations, CIFOR and ICRAF, have been dealing with forestry and agroforestry research issues respectively and providing practical solutions to these two sister sciences. 
Besides deforestation due to agricultural expansion, after the industrialization, creation of urban and industrial centers combined with development and requirements of industrial raw materials, widespread deforestation and forest degradation ensued. However, after the threshold was crossed, it was felt to preserve forest and biodiversity resources for eternity to enable the continuous flow of ecosystem services. This led to the worldwide movement of creating national parks, forest reserves, sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, etc. But due to population growth, economic globalization, and degradation of lands, the pressure on existing forests kept on increasing. Therefore, it became urgent to look beyond forests and focus on other productive land uses such as agricultural lands to produce more wood and non-wood forest products (NWFPs) for meeting local and industrial needs. Agroforestry provided the natural alternative
Agroforestry involves a variety of trees that are planted and managed in agricultural landscapes that provide two major outputs: products and services. Tree in agroforestry produces timber, fruits, gums, resins, latex, nuts, oils, beverages, flavors, fodder for livestock, fuelwood, and biomass for energy, medicines, ornaments, etc, thus providing a basic life support system to local people and communities. Besides producing tangible products, they also provide intangible services such as habitat to wildlife, bees habitats for pollination for crop plants, carbon capture in biomass and soil, amelioration of surrounding environment, regulation of micro-climates, nitrogen fixation, erosion control, soil formation, cultural values, etc
Agroforestry is a low-cost method of integrated land management that also reduces human impacts on lands. It contributes to developing a green economy by promoting sustainable and resilient forest management, benefitting also small-scale farmers. The research in the past has highlighted the benefits of agroforestry both economically and environmentally, producing more combined output and found to be more sustainable than forestry or agricultural monocultures. Therefore, it is no wonder that various Agroforestry models and systems have been adopted across the world. The total international trade in tree crops has already crossed the 140 billion per year mark now, the potential being much higher. Agroforestry also holds special relevance to the countries in Africa and Asia where most of the undernourished human population (more than 80% of global) reside. Agroforestry is already practiced by more than 1.2 billion people worldwide (World Bank, 2004).
At present, while climate change is posing one of the gravest threats to humanity, trees and forests are presenting themselves as one of the most reliable solutions, both for mitigation (REDD+) as well as adaptation (as climate-resilient renewable resources) measures. After an almost failure of the Kyoto protocol and a weak climate regime emerging under the Paris Agreement, scientists and policymakers are seeing forests and trees as a good alternative and win-win solution for addressing the climate challenge. Interestingly, on 1st December 2018, the merger of ICRAF and CIFOR was announced, signifying the urgency of synergizing the science and practice of agroforestry and forestry. Also, for forestry and agroforestry to become effective enough to significantly reduce climate change, needs to break the monotony of unproductive practices and make a paradigm shift towards productive, well-managed, and measurable sustainable forest management systems, have been increasingly felt.
B. Opportunities under SFM and Forest Certification
Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) is a philosophy and scientific practice that optimizes social, economic, and ecological benefits flowing from natural and man-made forests. It is a growing realization since the 1990s that all land uses will need to be economically competitive and ecologically viable in a long run to survive the developmental race, and forests cannot be left behind. SFM addresses forest degradation and deforestation while increasing direct and indirect benefits to people and the environment. At the social level, SFM contributes to livelihoods, income generation, and employment. At the environmental level, it enhances ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water, soil biodiversity conservation, climate regulation, etc.
Managing forests sustainably means increasing ecological, social, and economic benefits flowing from them to meet human society’s needs in a way that conserves and maintains forest ecosystems for the benefit of present and future generations. It is a fact that many of the world’s forests and wooded landscapes, especially in the tropics and subtropics, are not managed sustainably. It was estimated by WWF that around 32 million acres of forests are unsustainably harvested every year worldwide. Many countries, especially developing ones, lack appropriate forest policies, legislation, institutional frameworks, and incentives to promote sustainable forest management. Where forest management plans exist, like in India, they are often limited to ensuring the sustained production of wood and NWFPs, without enough attention to the many other ecosystem services that forests provide. These management plans also often neglect workers’ rights and requirements laid under multilateral environmental and labor agreements. Traditional forest management plans also have been found to ignore the marketing potential by missing to comply with international trading requirements. As a consequence, on one hand, natural forests become an economic and management burden on governments, and on the other hand, land uses such as agriculture become financially more attractive in the short term than forest management. It encourages illegal logging, fuelling further deforestation and land-use changes. Therefore, the world needs to be scaled up systems that make the forestry and agroforestry sectors economically competitive with other land uses, socially sound to enhance acceptability to farmers and workers, as well as ecologically appropriate to minimize impacts of management operations. Forest certification is a well-designed system designed to address all these concerns.
The need for forest certification as a tool for ensuring SFM was discussed at the side-lines of the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At this meeting, 172 governments participated to discuss environmental issues such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, land degradation, and climate change and find ways to stop these. Coincidentally, a bit earlier in 1990, concerned about accelerating deforestation, environmental degradation and social exclusion, a group of timber users, traders, and representatives of environmental and human rights organizations met in California, USA. The meetings “highlighted the need for a system that could credibly identify well-managed forests as the sources of responsibly produced wood products.” This diverse group highlighted the need for a system that could credibly identify well-managed forests as the sources of responsibly produced wood products.
The Earth Summit produced no legally binding commitments on forest management, but it did result in Agenda 21 and the non-legally binding Forest Principles. It provided a forum for many non-governmental organizations to come together and gather support for the innovative idea of a non-governmental, independent, and international forest certification scheme. It also prompted the creation of forest certification non-profit organizations that currently oversee sustainable forest management practices around the world.
Encouraged by these global events and discussions, a variety of forest certification schemes have been developed across the world. There are over 50 certification programs worldwide that address the different types of forests. The two most well-known forest certification systems are the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC was established in 1993 through the collaborative efforts of more than 100 participants representing economic, social, indigenous, and environmental interests. The FSC is a global certification system that enables forest users to identify and purchase wood from well-managed forests. It defines ten principles of responsible forest management for a manager or owner to follow. As a benchmark, any FSC standard has to be ‘interpreted’ at the national level for it to be implemented within local forests. Similarly, PEFC, established in 1999, is an international organization dedicated to promoting SFM through independent third-party certification. However, PEFC is not a standard-setting agency buts mutual recognition system for nationally developed forest certification schemes.
While both FSC and PEFC are committed to the same cause of SFM, the primary difference between the certifications is their origins. Initially, the FSC scheme was developed for tropical environments and not suited for forests in Europe and North America. This led to the introduction of PEFC in the late 1990s, to facilitate SFM certification in Europe. Together, FSC and PEFC have certified more than 500 million hectares across the world. So far, PEFC has endorsed 42 National SFM Certification schemes including China, Malaysia, Thailand, USA, UK, Canada, Indonesia, Norway, Sweden, etc. The Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF), a non-profit organization, has opened the Indian chapter by framing the Sustainable Forest Management standard for India that was launched in January 2018. This standard has now been endorsed by PEFC and is operational in India.
Forest certification also supports the existing UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) framework for combating climate change by having inherent synergy with its MRV requirement that is integral to all climate mitigation initiatives under UNFCCC. The Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks (including forests and other wooded land uses) is referred to as MRV. Measurement is the process of estimating anthropogenic forest-related emissions by sources and removals by sinks; forest carbon stocks; and changes in forest carbon stocks and forest area resulting from the implementation of REDD+ activities, following guidance and guidelines from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Under the UNFCCC, countries are expected to report these estimates to the UNFCCC Secretariat. The forest certification process has huge potential of integration with the MRV framework of UNFCCC, for carbon capture initiatives both in forestry as well as agroforestry.
C. Relevance for India
India has been experimenting with various models of agroforestry and forest management with its suitably placed institutional and policy frameworks. The country has been innovative and is one of the first in the world to bring out a national policy of agroforestry in 2014. The central government has also started various other initiatives such as the Green India Mission, the draft National Forest Policy, etc with a focus on increasing the green area of the country and increasing wood productivity through agroforestry. In this conducive atmosphere, it is opportune to devise and adopt the best models of agroforestry and SFM that best suit our national and local conditions.
The relevance of forest certification as a tool for SFM in India, where most of the forests are government-owned and managed, has been argued and questioned repeatedly. In this regard, it is important to understand the changing global tides to understand their relevance. While the SFM has been ever relevant to Indian philosophy, in a globalized world, it needs to be explicitly internalized in Indian forest planning processes. India’s export and import of wood and wood products are rising and are worth USD 8.5 billion per year at present. Interestingly, this is happening when we have already drastically reduced the logging from natural forests (allowed only with an approved working plan). The timber harvests from forests which used to stand at 10 million cubic meters (m cum) per annum in the 1970s, now have come down to 3.2 m cum as per latest estimates by Forest Survey of India. On the contrary, trees outside forests (TOF), which mainly comprises trees grown in Agroforestry systems, are contributing about 74.5 m cum per year, as estimated by the State of Forest Report of 2017 by the Forest Survey of India. No wonder, there is an enhanced focus of government as well as industry to scale up the area under Agroforestry for its natural benefits to ecology, economy, and society. Companies like ITC Limited, JK Papers, etc are increasingly engaging farmers to produce industrial timber and pulpwood to feed their production systems.
Further, an International Union for Forestry Research Organisations (IUFRO) report published in 2016 shows that India is the third-largest importer of illegally harvested wood – after China and Vietnam. This is one tag that India should shed soon by increasing the production capacity of her forests and agroforests. This will bring benefits to not only farmers by increasing their cumulative production per unit of farmland but will also reduce pressure on natural forests for wood and NWFPs. The enhanced area under agroforestry will also bring additional ecological benefits by serving as buffer zones to biodiversity.
While enhancing area under agroforestry and SFM in India’s forests are pressing imperatives, forest certification can bring additional benefits to India’s export of wood products as they can also command high price after certification. It is timely also as multinationals such as IKEA, TARGET, HnM, Otto, etc are scouting India for certified wood products as organizational policies for promoting SFM. Certification of existing natural forests and plantations/agroforestry will streamline the sectors to the international trading regime, enhance the market potential of the Indian wood industry and bring social, economic, and ecological benefits to local communities and farmers. This can prove to be a true ‘Make in India’ achievement for these sectors and will also help India develop as a green economy.
Further, India is a leader in policy advocacy for SFM and creating safeguards for the emerging REDD+ regime which is becoming imperative in the present era of climate change. Post Rio Earth Summit, there is increased emphasis on managing remaining forests sustainably as well as enhancing the carbon capture by increasing green cover. Forest certification has been emerging strongly as a practical tool for ensuring SFM as well as monitoring the progress against SDGs. SDG 15.2 recognizes among other Indicators, the “forest area certified under an independently verified certification scheme” for measuring the achievement under this goal. At present, about 8% of the world’s forests stand certified to conform to non-legally binding forestry principles and to meet the NDC forestry targets of the Paris Agreement. Forest Certification can contribute to India meet its Forestry NDC of creating an additional CO2 sink of 2.5 to 3.0 billion tonnes of CO2eq by 2030. Recognizing the importance of forest certification, the Draft National Forest Policy of India promotes forest certification. Moreover, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) rules notified in July 2018 mentions third-party monitoring and ‘forest certification and development of certification standards’ among eligible activities for utilizing the CAF funds. These key developments provide ample relevance and opportunities of utilizing the benefits of forest certification for ensuring SFM and addressing the climate change challenge thereby. Both natural forests, as well as plantations and agroforestry areas, should embark on the certification process to tap its social, economic, and ecological benefits. India has already launched the National Agroforestry Policy in 2014 that aims to utilize agroforestry as an instrument for transforming the lives of the rural farming population, protecting the ecosystem, and ensuring food security. Forest certification can enhance the benefits of the agroforestry regime being developed under this policy.
Taking clues from the CIFOR-ICFRAF merger, India should also tune herself to this paradigm shift of synergizing forestry and agroforestry. Adopting SFM and forest certification as systems to monitor changes and enhancing the effectiveness of these two green sectors under this evolving regime. The REDD+ regime under Paris Agreement should also recognize forest certification as the method for ensuring MRV owing to its obvious and tested merits. Now that all developed, as well as developing countries (including India), are mandated to contribute to climate change mitigation under their NDC targets, the potential of SFM and forest certification cannot be left untapped for meeting these targets. We cannot afford to lose this opportunity for the sake of national and global sustainable development.