FSC in the Greater Mekong region: Past the half-million hectare mark, but where to next? | WWF

FSC in the Greater Mekong region: Past the half-million hectare mark, but where to next?

Posted on 09 June 2014
Landscape of mixed deciduous forest in Huai Kha Khaeng Sanctuary in West Thailand.
© Gerald S. Cubitt / WWF
On 9 May 2014, FSC reached a milestone in the Greater Mekong region with the certification of 33,149 hectares (ha) of mostly natural forest in central Vietnam managed by the Truong Son State Forest Enterprise. This brought the total area certified under FSC forest management standards in the region to 503,820 ha, almost 13 years after the very first certification in Thailand in 2001. Further progress in Vietnam has since raised the total to more than 531,000 ha.

Although Thailand kicked off certification in the Greater Mekong, and Vietnam took it past the half-million hectare mark, the largest share of FSC-certified forests in the region is in Guangxi, China, which currently has 250,906 ha (47%). Vietnam is second with 136,706 ha (26%), followed by Laos with 105,241 ha (20%), Thailand 25,707 ha (5%), and Cambodia 12,746 ha (2%). Myanmar has no certified forests, and Yunnan, China, saw its only forest management certificate terminated last year.

Despite this achievement, FSC has far to go before it makes an appreciable impact on forests in the Greater Mekong. Certified forests as a whole account for less than 1% of the region’s production forest area. Even in Guangxi, they account for only about 2.9% of production forests (in Vietnam, the equivalent figure is 2.1%). Moreover, analysis by WWF shows that almost two-thirds of the region’s certified forests are plantations, including some rubber. The smaller proportion of certified natural forests is concentrated in Laos, Vietnam and, to a lesser degree, Guangxi. Also, about two-thirds of the region’s certified forests are managed by state entities, and the rest by private ones (ranging from large companies to small farmers). In the whole of Greater Mekong, only a tiny patch of 315 ha in Thailand is certified as community managed, and is itself part of a privately held group certificate.

Expanding the area of certified forest, in particular natural forest, in the Greater Mekong faces stiff challenges. Across the region, natural production forests either are under harvesting moratoria or suffer from high rates of uncontrolled and illegal logging, limiting the incentives to improve management. Certification also remains costly and demanding, often requiring large injections of external funds and technical assistance. And, in the market, demand and prices for certified wood are unexceptional, especially for the many lesser-known species left in secondary forests.

Certifying plantations tends to be more straightforward, and indeed future growth in certification in the Greater Mekong is likely to be in the plantation sector. Yet the small-scale nature of this sector in countries like Thailand and Vietnam means that large group certification schemes are needed to achieve the necessary economies of scale in production and marketing, and these demand intensive coordination. Even then, locally produced certified wood can be outcompeted by cheaper imports from larger, more efficient certified producers.

Still, there is reason to hope that the Greater Mekong will see its next half-million hectares in much less than 13 years. “The overall rate of growth in certification has accelerated in the past five years as industry and consumer awareness has grown”, says Matthew Markopoulos, WWF-Greater Mekong’s Regional Forest Coordinator. “Countries are also reworking their regulatory frameworks to stimulate investment in, and better management of, forests. The results are still patchy, but WWF is hopeful that measures such as the FLEGT VPAs (Voluntary Partnership Agreements) some countries are negotiating will help to facilitate standard setting and certification. WWF is committed to supporting these efforts through its Global Forest &Trade Network (GFTN), a new FLEGT support project in Laos and Vietnam, and ongoing work to promote responsible forest management and trade, including certification of village rattan forests and smallholder Acacia plantations.”

For more details contact: Matthew Markopoulos, Regional Forest Coordinator, WWF-Greater Mekong, matthew.markopoulos@wwf.panda.org 
Landscape of mixed deciduous forest in Huai Kha Khaeng Sanctuary in West Thailand.
© Gerald S. Cubitt / WWF Enlarge