National FSC a step closer

February 28, 2011

South African forestry is at the forefront of efforts to protect the environment through responsible management practices, both internationally and nationally, argues environmental consultant, John Scotcher. This is borne out by the high ratio of FSC certified plantations, as well as conservation initiatives aimed at improved management of wetlands, grasslands and functioning ecosystems found on forestry estates across the country. 

Environmental consultant, John Scotcher

John Scotcher, FSA's environmental
specialist, and the contact person
for FSC in South Africa.


A review of the FSC Principles and Criteria, and the development of the National Forest Certification Standards for South Africa, is set to further improve forest certification for both natural and plantation forests.

The Forest Stewardship Council has completed a comprehensive review of its Principles and Criterion. These are expected to be approved by the end of this year. One of the outcomes of this process is the dropping of Principle 10 which relates specifically to plantation forestry. The new FSC P&Cs will apply to natural, semi-natural and plantation forests in exactly the same way.

"This is great news," commented environmental consultant, Dr John Scotcher. "The FSC P&Cs have been significantly improved, and are focused more on managing impacts, and apply equally to plantations and natural forests, which are regarded as one and the same thing. We wanted to make sure that all forests – whether plantation, semi-natural or natural – are managed the same way."

Meanwhile, the process of drafting the South African Standards under the guidance of the National Initiative Working Group, is almost complete. The work was undertaken by the Institute of Natural Resources, and involved extensive stakeholder consultation. These Standards are currently being further refined by Michal Brink of Forestry Solutions, and will be submitted to FSC in two or three months' time for ratification and approval as the FSC Standards for South Africa.

The next step would be to integrate and align the National Standards with the FSC P&Cs and to get them approved by the certification body. The major benefit of having a National Standard for South Africa would be that they are stakeholder-driven, and they are relevant to local conditions, explained John.

Another initiative that is set to improve the management of forestry estates in South Africa focuses on the formal recognition of sites on forestry estates that have high ecological value, either as 'nature reserves' or 'protected environments' (see separate story). Three sites on forestry estates have been declared nature reserves in the past few months, and another 33 sites have been targeted for formal conservation protection.

In addition, the FSA is considering ways of providing some form of recognition for 'functioning ecosystems' that are found in unplanted areas. These are not necessarily sites of high biodiversity value, but they are still functioning ecosystems that support a variety of flora and fauna and deliver a range of environmental services.

Forestry stakeholders in South Africa are generally supportive of conservation initiatives, according to John. This is illustrated by the fact that we have the highest percentage of FSC certified forests in the world. Certification is voluntary, but it is market-driven as consumers around the world are becoming increasingly insistent that the wood and fibre products they buy come from forests that are managed in a sustainable manner. There are also 120 Chain of Custody certified operations in South Africa, which cover the entire logistics chain from plantation to the retail outlet.

One of the big challenges for the South African industry is how to bring FSC certification to community-owned plantations. In cases where existing plantations are transferred to community trusts and are either managed by or leased by established forestry companies, this does not pose a problem as FSC certification will in most instances be retained.

However, it's not feasible for small growers operating small patches of plantations on communal land to get certified. Some kind of group scheme needs to be put in place to ensure that the environmental impacts of forestry at this level are managed, and that the benefits of certification can reach the growers.

Another challenge facing the industry is how to deal with plantations that have been established without the requisite authorisation. This has undoubtedly occurred as a result of frustration over the slow and cumbersome process of obtaining water use licences. Some people have been waiting for 10 years for permission to plant.

Nobody knows for certain how big the problem really is, but the Department of Water Affairs needs to determine the extent of unlicenced plantations sooner rather than later.

Published in February 2011

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