Fighting illegal loggers

EoF News / 07 March 2006

Indonesia has enacted laws on environmental protection and has issued a myriad of regulations and rulings to protect forests, in addition to the creation of non-tariff barriers to prevent the trading of illegally cut wood. Yet deforestation continues. Inter-island trade and export of illegally felled timber remains rampant.

The government seemed to realize that since only incremental improvement can, at best, be made in the system of governance and institutional capacity, it became more urgent now to step up forest-product certification to supplement the regulatory system in curbing illegal logging.

Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban warned the businesses in the wood processing industry Monday that Japan had joined the green-products movement in the European Union and the United States. The green consumer movement mobilizes consumers, traders and conservation groups to shun or boycott forest products, which are not certified according to internationally recognized standards of sustainable forest management. Forest certification thus controls illegal logging through demand-side and supply-side approaches.

How does ecolabeling or certification protect the forests? The process of certification involves the inspection of the operations of forest-based companies to verify that their forest concessions are being managed in accordance with social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable forest management, as described in the relevant standards set by the Bonn-based Forest Stewardship Council. Usually independent certifying bodies assign a multidisciplinary team of specialists to carry out the assessment before a certificate can be issued for a fixed period of time.

The process of certification also includes the audit of forest harvests, primary, secondary processing, manufacturing, distribution and sale (the system of tracking the source of the wood) to ascertain that the timber processed was truly derived from sustainable, properly managed forests.

Traders and general consumers in Indonesia, like those in other Asia-Pacific (including China), African and Latin American countries, have yet to be converted into full supporters of the green-product campaign.

Indonesian timber companies, as well as the pulp and paper producers, may circumvent local regulations or bribe officials to get illegally cut wood, but they will no longer be able to sell any of their products to Europe, the United States or Japan. They thus have no other choice but to have their operations and products certified according to the principles of sustainable forest management.

The problem with ecolabeling in this country is how to make the certification process less costly to encourage more companies, notably medium-sized ones, to have their operations audited for certification. To help reduce the costs, the government -- actually, the Indonesian Ecolabeling Institute (LEI), on behalf of the government -- may consider developing group certification schemes, which depend on some consistency between the different properties in terms of management and some internal monitoring, so that the certifiers can inspect only a sample of the sites each year.

The LEI, which was set up in 1998 with funding support from the WWF, the U.S. government and many NGOs from Europe and North America, also needs to accredit more independent certifying bodies, based on international standards, to conduct certification of forest-based companies.

Indonesia, like most other developing countries, still has a long way to go before most of its forest-based companies are capable of complying with the principles of sustainable management, but expanding forest certification across the timber industry could speed up the process.

But major donors affiliated with the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI), who have often expressed grave concerns about extensive damages in the world's second-largest tropical forest (Indonesia's), should contribute more to building up a higher national capacity for forest certification in the country.

However, the development of the certification system will not run smoothly unless the Indonesian government streamlines the system of its regulatory procedures in land-use planning, land rights, forest harvesting permits and timber transportation documents.

Forest certification, as a market-based instrument, will become much more effective in saving forests if banks also use sustainable forest management as a screening tool for loans.

Read: Eyes on the Forest Calls Moratorium For Logging Licenses Issued by Bupati