Forest user groups recognized for meeting highest international standards of sustainability

Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood is to award the first community based nontimber forest products (NTFP) Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in Asia. This certification, one of only five in the world is awarded to the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN). FECOFUN’s members supply NTFP ingredients to the international herbal and medicinal products industry. FSC promotes responsible forest management by evaluating and accrediting certifiers, by encouraging the development of national and regional forest management standards, and by providing public education and information about independent, third party certification as a tool for ensuring the world’s forests are protected for future generations. FSC has certified over 42 million hectares of forests around the world in 60 countries.

While FSC has been extremely successful, the number of community-based certifications is small, while the community forestry model has grown tremendously in the past 15 years with 25% of the worlds forests in developing countries under community forestry. In Nepal, there are over 13,000 forest user groups (people living in or near the forest) across Nepal that include almost a third of Nepal’s population and cover 25% of the biodiversity rich forests. For most of these communities, NTFP trade is the only livelihood besides subsistence agriculture. Nepal receiving this certification is groundbreaking and hopes to be a model for the rest of the world.

Providing nontimber forest products as ingredients for the international herbal and health care industry often causes destruction of forests and forest communities in remote regions of the world. In small villages in the Nepal Himalayas, for example, medicinal herb traders encourage the poorest people living in the forests to harvest as many medicinal plants as they can, pay them the lowest prices for the herbs, and abandon the community when the plant supply (also known as nontimber forest products) runs out. These herbs may then turn up in the herbal medicines that western consumers buy from the pharmacies or health food shop. The result is that the poor become poorer and end up destroying their only livelihood — the biodiversity rich forest.

To combat this a unique alliance (the Nepali Nontimber Forest Product Promotion Alliance) of corporations, government and non-profits was formed with the goal of combating this crisis of biodiversity loss in Nepal and preserving sustainable rural life by bringing about responsible business practices through education of business users. Additionally its goal is to develop certified sustainably collected medicinal herbs and other non-timber forest products (NTFPs) from the forest, using the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification process. The FSC supports environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests and promotes responsible forest management.

The certification awarding is part of a larger effort of the alliance to combat destruction of forest and forest communities. Coordinated by ANSAB (Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources), the alliance includes representatives from the Nepali government; Nepali non governmental organizations (NGOs); private companies active in the herbal products industry, including Aveda; an FSC forest certification organization – Rainforest Alliance; community forestry user groups, represented by the Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal; and donors, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ford Foundation, and the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV). This is the first time industry, government, NGOs, communities, and forest certifiers have combined expertise to make commercial trade of non-timber forest products in Nepal sustainable.

With the Forest Stewardship Council awarding, 11 community forest user groups in Bajhang and Dolakha (under the umbrella of FECOFUN) covering 10,500 hectares are now certified. Bhola Bhattarai, Member Secretary of FECOFUN said “FECOFUN sees this as an opportunity to bring forest management advancement and consistency to its membership. But this is only the beginning”. Last year, the alliance contributed to sales of 602,865 kg of raw and processed NTFPs with a value of Rs. 35,130,254. Alliance activities have generated 1,209 direct NTFP processing and marketing jobs and benefited 5,334 households. A total of 11,209 grassroots participants received technical assistance on sustainable forest management that will allow further groups to join the FECOFUN FSC certification. Industry coaching has resulted in the development of a wide range of products including pain relief oil, personal care products, herbal teas, and hand made papers.

As the lead U.S. based industry alliance member, Aveda was present to congratulate FECOFUN on this groundbreaking achievement. David Hircock, Advisor to the President of Aveda, delivered a personal message from Dominique Conseil, President of Aveda. “At Aveda we strive to set an example in environmental leadership and responsibility. With extinction of plant species at an all time high, it is imperative that industry takes responsibility for the supply chain of medicinal herbs”. We must act today to protect all species, plant and animals, and protect from exploitation the very special people who are able to work in harmony with the forests. The alliance asks the right questions — empowering forest dwelling people to protect their lands and maintain their livelihood.”

ANSAB provided the technical assistance to FECOFUN and the community forest user groups to meet the management and technical requirements of FSC certification. Calling for action, Bhishma Subedi, Executive Director of ANSAB said “We can make a difference by creating the environment for local communities to get meaningful incomes from the forest resource they manage. This is possible only by changing the way corporations do business so that sustainable practices are rewarded. Governments, non profits, and donor projects provide technical assistance and the enabling policy environment so communities can practice enterprise-oriented sustainable forest management”. As coordinator of the alliance, ANSAB is organizing a conference on NTFP Certification and Sustainable Marketing on January 11, 2005 to share the alliances’ experiences, achievements, and prospects. The conference will congregate over 100 participants from the government, non-governmental organizations, donors and the private sector.