Working towards boosting certification of tropical forests in Africa

Peter Latham, Chairman of the PEFC International Board, writes in a Guest Column for the TTJ Tropical Timber Edition.

Working towards boosting certification of tropical forests in Africa

25 November 2020 Driving innovation

Forest certification evolved from concerns about the destruction of tropical forests. Yet after more than two decades of combined efforts by PEFC and FSC, less than a tenth of the global certified forest area is tropical forest. It is time for a new boost for forest certification of tropical forests, and PEFC - together with a diverse coalition of stakeholders - is making great strides towards this goal.

The loss of tropical forests was high on the agenda of the 1992 Earth Summit, but governments failed to agree on a legally binding agreement on this topic. Yet it gave raise to something potentially more important: the insight that deforestation cannot be tackled in isolation, but needs to be part of a holistic, global effort to promote sustainable forest management (SFM). 

As a result, the concept of “criteria and indicators for Sustainable Forest Management” became more widely accepted internationally, and eventually led to Pan-European criteria and indicators for SFM (MCPFE) and criteria for the sustainable management of tropical forests (ATO/ITTO). 

Forest certification systems also trace their roots back to the 1992 Earth Summit and its concerns for tropical forests. However, certification took hold mainly in temperate forests, especially after PEFC was created. By 2005, six years after its foundation, PEFC was already the world’s largest forest certification system. 

Temperate forests were located in regions where forest governance systems were well established, forest rights largely well defined, and where forest owners already benefitted from a long history of sustainable forest management. Importantly, forest owners were also well organised within an established network of forest sector organisations and networks.  

PEFC, which quires a “bottom-up” approach in every country where it operates, builds on such structures. PEFC sustainable forest management requirements are developed by a multi-stakeholder process, which seeks for a consensus among all actors at national level, to address the particular framework conditions of the respective country.  

PEFC’s bottom-up approach therefore always requires participation of affected and interested stakeholders at local level. In counties with less established governance structures, this is more difficult to put in place, but more successful and long-lasting than top-down approaches. Nowadays, about 75% of all certified forests are PEFC certified. 

The first tropical country that achieved PEFC endorsement was Malaysia in 2009. Today, Brazil, Indonesia, French Guiana, Gabon and Cameroon all benefit from PEFC-endorsed national forest certification systems, with efforts underway in Ghana, Guyana, Myanmar and the Republic of Congo.

But more efforts are required to expand sustainable forest management of tropical forests, which is why Cameroon, Congo and Gabon have joined forces to form ‘PAFC Congo Basin’. The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic are hoped to join this collaboration as well. The shared language, the same forest type and similar forest legislation in the neighbouring countries, make this unprecedented development of a regional system feasible. 

The future regional system would substitute the existing national systems, while expanding the availability of PEFC certification to all participating countries. Led by ATIBT and supported by Olam International, the project has received funding from PPECF (Programme de Promotion de l’Exploitation Certifiée des Forêts), a joint programme of KFW, the German

Development Bank, and COMIFAC, the Commission of Forestry Ministers of Central Africa. 

The management of the system will be centralized and administered by a single regional coordinator, increasing the efficiency of the system’s implementation and facilitating external communication and outreach.  

Crucially, the support of local stakeholders for this regional approach will enable PAFC Congo Basin to obtain widespread support and buy-in, giving forest certification of tropical forests in Africa a much needed boost. We invite all stakeholders to join this collaborative effort. 

Conflict Timber

See PEFC's guidance following the announcement that all timber originating from Russia and Belarus is ‘conflict timber’.


See PEFC's latest COVID-19 guidance for certification bodies and certified entities.

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