Assessing the progress made: an evaluation of forest management certification in the tropics

Peña-Claros, M.; Blommerde, S.; Bongers, F. (2009).
Tropical Resource Management Papers 95, Wageningen University. 72 pp.

Forest management certification is a market based conservation initiative that aims to promote the environmental appropriate, socially beneficial, and economical viable management of forests. Certification schemes are based on a set of Principles and Criteria dealing with legal, social, economical, and ecological aspects related to forest management and its chain of custody. This set of Principles and Criteria are used to evaluate the performance of forest management units (FMU) and to determine if the FMU should be certified or not.

In this study we have analyzed the evaluation reports of 123 FMU managing natural tropical forests that are certified under the scheme of the Forest Stewardship Council. We have also followed through time the list of actions given by evaluators to a subset of FMU. These approaches allowed us to assess the impact of certification on forest management, to determine if issues raised in the list of actions are solved by the FMU through time, and to evaluate factors that influence the impact of forest management certification at the country and the tropical region level.

Most certified forest area is in the Neotropics. The claim that most certified area is managed by large individual-owned FMU, and that certification is not really accessible to smallholders and local communities, is true based on certified area, but not true based on the number of certificates. We show that there is a learning process since forest certification was introduced, with less problems being found through time. Forest management certification improves the working standards of FMU in the tropics in all different aspects, as all three pillars of sustainability are included in the list of the most common problems found. Additionally it is likely that certification will have a large impact on the long-term sustainability of forest management mainly because FMU are requested to improve their monitoring system and to incorporate the results of the monitoring system into their management practices. Finally, public summaries include a wealth of information that can be better used for adjusting the certification schemes, for monitoring progress, and for extracting lessons learned that can then be applied elsewhere.

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