Developing national forest certification systems in the Balkans
Despite making up a quarter of the region’s forest area, small- and family forest owners in the Balkans continue to strive towards forest certification.
After 50 years of centralized forest management, the process of returning land to private owners throughout the region is reaching its final stages. While progress is being made, legislative frameworks still do not fully address the needs of these private forest owners, and governments continue to focus on the large state-owned forests.
For the small-forest owners, many of which have little or no knowledge on forest certification, certification is seen as too complicated and too expensive. Furthermore, most forest owner associations, which are important for promoting responsible forestry, were only established recently, and are not yet focused on promoting forest certification.
Yet forests play an important societal and economic role in the Balkans, where more than half the population lives in rural areas and forests are a significant source of income, jobs and resources.
What is clear is the need to develop forest certification systems in the Balkans which take into account the region’s small- and family forest owners, ensuring that they can access forest certification. At the same time, there is a strong need to work with these forest owners, assisting them to manage their forests sustainably and engaging them in the development process of their national forest certification systems.
A regional approach to developing forest certification
We have been actively supporting projects within the Balkans since the first Collaboration Fund back in 2011. Now we are looking to build on these projects using a regional approach to increase forest certification throughout the Balkans.
Led by our International Stakeholder member Connecting Natural Values and People Foundation (CNVP), we are supporting an innovative project to do just this, using experiences from countries further along the development process to help other countries in the region progress.
Building on the experiences and lessons learned from the previous projects, this project is using the REFORD network, a regional network representing family and municipal forest owners in the Balkans, to raise awareness of forest certification within the small- and family forest owners in the region.
Awareness and promotional events have so far been held in Bulgaria and Serbia, while in Croatia a meeting officially kicked off a national initiative to develop a forest certification system in early 2017.
Feedback from the national level activities will be used to develop the next steps of the project, including the identification of countries showing the most interest for the development of national forest certification systems – in particular those with forest owners willing to engage in the process.
Project leader CNVP, alongside members of the REFORD network, will then provide system development support to these countries, using the system documentation drafts developed in previous projects as a basis.
PEFC members in the region also meet regularly for cooperation meetings to enable them to share experiences and collaborate. Since the start of the project, Bulgaria has joined PEFC as a national member and has achieved PEFC endorsement of its national system. We are also helping to support the development of a Croatian forest certification system through the 2017 PEFC Collaboration Fund.
Building on past experiences
This latest project builds on the work already done through several previous projects in the Balkans.
The 2014 Collaboration Fund supported a project to guide North Macedonia through the system development process, which came to a close with their endorsement by PEFC in June 2018.
Our work in North Macedonia grew from an earlier project in 2013, when we partnered with CNVP to develop awareness and capacity on sustainable forest management and PEFC certification in North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo, laying the groundwork for the development of national forest certification systems.
Looking further back, the 2011 and 2012 Collaboration Funds helped raise awareness of the need for certification among private forest owners in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, securing their participation and involvement in the national standard-setting process. Montenegro went one step further, developing a working draft for the sustainable forest management, the first step towards PEFC certification in the country.
In 2014 we became involved in a Europe-wide project aimed at preventing criminal organizations infiltrating into the EU timber market.
The TREES project (Timber Regulation Enforcement to protect European wood Sector from criminal infiltration), led by Conlegno, PEFC Italy, RiSSC, Risk Monitor and CNVP, and supported by a range of partners including INTERPOL, PEFC International and several PEFC National members, provided market operators with suggestions on how to carry out risk assessments and risk procedures, with a focus on Eastern Europe.