Tuesday, November 7, 2017

51 Forest Certification-V. A policy for India

From the broader topic of a SFM (Sustainable Forest Management) framework, we now come to the forest certification scenario. From the foregoing discussion, two main routes to a certification framework seem to emerge. One alternative would be to set up a government-led and supported national body to set the standards (in a participatory and consultative mode, of course), lay down procedures, give recognition to certifying agencies (i.e., do the accreditation of certifiers), and administer the certification and labeling process in toto. The second alternative would be to depend on an international standards-setting and accreditation organization like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) to take up the responsibility of operating its own system (suitably modified for local conditions), and leave it to individual actors to apply to them when required. A brief discussion of these alternatives follows.

[A pdf version can be downloaded at https://www.academia.edu/35114317/Forest_Certification_relevance_challenges_and_way_forward_in_India

Historically, the concept of Forest Certification (FC) has been inspired and driven mainly by environmental activists in the west, who wanted a credible and honest process to judge the sustainability (environmental, social and economic) of the timber and other forest products being sold in their markets, thereby offering better and more informed choices to their consumers. The basis of this would be that standards are set by the consumer forums and environmentalists, and latterly by social activists representing the interests of local communities and indigenous peoples. In the current environment of a general lack of faith in political leaders and government administrations, the less the process and its institutions are under the control or influence of national governments, the higher will be their credibility. This is why the FSC is considered a higher level of the FC systems, as the FSC itself is governed by the general body of the members, with equal weight of the three main groups or “chambers” of stakeholders: environmentalists, industry, and governments, and as the certifiers themselves are independent (private) concerns. The essence of the FSC system is its autonomy; hence any government-run process will automatically be suspect in its eyes. The FSC (or its main protagonist, the WWF) would have to be given the lead in the process of drawing up standards and processes, and setting up institutions; the Bhopal-India process would have to be done all over again, this time keyed to the requirements and expectations of international social-environmental NGOs and consumer organisations.

In contrast, the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) reposes higher confidence in national governments and their ability to come up with such a scheme (with due consultation with all stakeholders). Because the PEFC does not itself set the standards, but looks at the country-level systems drawn up by the national organisations, it has been successful in bringing a much larger area under certification than the more exacting FSC. However, even the PEFC cannot blindly endorse country-level systems and standards, as its credibility will have to be maintained in the face of the higher bar set by the FSC. In fact, it is evident that some sort of convergence is taking place between the two international schemes: thus, FSC moved to include plantations in its P10, and FSC has also allowed for tailoring of the framework to national and regional (sub-national) local conditions. FSC also has different levels of certificate of the source (fully sustainable, mixed, etc.).

One of the main disincentives to the state in giving official endorsement to the FSC as the national enabler of FC would be the erosion of its own (i.e. the state forest department’s) autonomy, at all levels. The forest ministry in the national government would be now subject to policy direction from the FSC; at the field level, each FMU (Forest Management Unit) would have to satisfy the FSC inspectors, and also probably hand over much more power to the local communities than at present.

Of course, it would always be a more pleasant state of affairs to have a large proportion of certified forest than not; protagonists of certification present long lists of benefits that would accrue all around. But these would have to be weighed against the time, effort and financial costs that would be required. In the case of most government forests in the country, there would appear to be no great advantage in having a certificate of sustainability from an external agency. The forest divisions are no longer oriented toward timber production; conversion of the natural forest has been given up, partly by policy, partly due to various orders from the Courts. Indeed the major portion of timber is coming from trees outside the forest, and from imports. The old ‘silvicutural systems’ that are taught in the forest colleges are no longer in operation; mostly there are only salvage harvests of dead and fallen trees as far as timber is concerned. Sustainable forestry principles may in fact demand a return to regular harvests of matured stems according to those silvicultural systems, which may be a paradoxical result from the conservation activists’ point of view.

So it appears that an international certification scheme would be of little concern to the government forests. Perhaps it may be of interest to private producers or industries procuring wood from the farmers, like the pulp and paper mills, who may like to export their products with such a certificate, either of chain of custody, or sustainable forestry. In such a case, a government certificate would have little mileage in the international market, and they would be forced to resort to the international certification system, of which only the FSC-WWF network would appear to provide a feasible alternative. In this context, cost considerations would be relevant, and group certification may have to be resorted to. The FSC-WWF partnership would have to sponsor the building of a locally relevant and feasible platform for India.

Therefore, there would not seem to be a great necessity for a government-sponsored certification system in India at present, as long as private actors could access the FSC-WWF framework. However, this does not mean that the government should abandon the ongoing exercises at setting up a framework of standards and processes for the state forests. One of the considerations here is that India would not like to get left behind completely in the global effort to make forestry “sustainable” in terms of the international NGO definitions. Indeed, because of the century-long experience of “scientific”, “sustained yield”, forestry, with its successes and failures, along with the legislative innovations and judicial activism of more recent decades, India could well make very valuable contributions to the global discussion on these matters. India’s participation in international environmental (and even climate) forums, as a progressive member of the world community, would have more credibility if it had a vigorous SFM programme, especially as the consumers in India have so far not exhibited any great concern about the SFM aspects of the timber they are consuming, either domestic or imported.

To take forward the SFM discussions in the government sector, the forest ministry could obviously get a head start from the strong framework already available: the forest department institutions (especially the Working Plan Code and the planning and monitoring process in the states), the policy and law framework (especially the JFM and FRA frameworks), and so on. A quick pilot survey of the applicability of the Bhopal-India Criteria and Indicators (C&I) in a number of states threw up the conclusion that some 60% of the data called for in the Bhopal-India C&I are already available with the divisions, which would give them a good basis for further improvement. Because of financial and procedural bottlenecks, it is probable that much of the remaining data, which would require intensive research and specialist knowledge and skills, could be attempted on an experimental basis only, in a few locations of high significance from the biodiversity or local socio-cultural point of view. Methods to resolve human-animal conflict, for example, could be one such high priority area.

At this point in time, it would be judicious not to impose any national standards requirement of inspection and certification of the FSC type for India’s state forests. It has to be appreciated that the moment any such standard is notified by government, then it becomes obligatory for the state forests to satisfy these conditions. The entire process of inspection and assessment would pass on to external agencies. Forest divisions would be at the mercy of these inspectors, and may have to incur a heavy burden of finances, time and administrative effort to cater to them, on top of all their other duties. If the standards are too ambitious and aspirational, it may be physically impossible to meet them in all aspects (especially the social ones). This would provide sufficient grounds for a Court to find the forest department incompetent, and the forests could then be passed on to other agencies or even privatised under this garb.

There are also issues of a “conflict of interests”, or rather a  “nexus of interests”, where officials and environmentalists/NGOs who design the system, will also be the prime candidates for taking up accreditation or serving on the various committees and councils. A frequent ploy is for bureaucrats (including both forest service and administrative service officers) to create positions of influence and authority for their own post-retirement comfort. The gamut of activities associated with such national and international institutions provide very powerful incentives to both retired persons and to younger NGO activists in the form of meetings, travel opportunities, professional contacts, and a general sense of intense involvement. Such situations would give a happy hunting ground for unscrupulous operators to exert influence and extract their pound of flesh from the target organizations (forest departments, FMUs etc.). Any SFM or FC framework in the government sector will have to be carefully designed to avoid such an eventuality. As Upton and Bass (1995, p.xvii) remark, the forest sector needs to be clear about the utility, practicability and possible distracting effects of the forest certification undertaking.

If the government takes no action, however, that itself may well become a target for criticism by NGOs and international bodies, who may ascribe to the government a lack of responsiveness and modern outlook. The government, therefore, should continue the discussion and consultation on forest management, highlighting the experiments in people’s participation and empowerment in different spheres like biodiversity conservation, agroforestry, landscape restoration, JFM, FRA implementation, and so on. The new Working Plan Code also provides a good platform to intensify data collection and monitoring, coupled with production of gazetteers and progress reports, case studies, and so on. A systematic review and assessment of ongoing public forestry efforts can be taken up under the umbrella of strengthening of SFM viewed in the broad sense. Efforts should be continued to improve the extraction and processing of non-timber products, especially medicinal plants that are in danger of over-exploitation under market forces. This is also an opportunity to involve a wide spectrum of stakeholders and public policy advocates, including NGO activists, academics, donor agencies, and so on. These efforts need to be documented and incorporated in the working plan reports, so that they could feed into any certification of sustainability that may be sought due to consumer demand sometime in the future.

If it is desired to emulate the certification system of the FSC or other networks, an internal system of assessment and grading could be developed. This could have the provision to accord certificates of performance at successive graded levels, so that forest divisions could gradually come up to the desired optimal levels depending on the local conditions and constraints. The formal certification system could also start with labeling of forest products, rather than forest management units; the basic label could certify the legality of the source (Chain-of-custody certification), and successive higher levels could then include other aspects of SFM, like environmental, social, or economic.

Besides, if any particular state forest administration (Uttarakhand state, for instance) genuinely feel that they are well prepared to face the challenges of the certification process, then they should volunteer for an internationally credible system. This would probably entail a ‘scoping’ visit from an accredited agency of the FSC. The problem here is that there is no one accepted description of SFM or its performance requirements. A retired forester from the batches of the 1960s and ‘70s, for instance, may insist on taking out the calculated sustained yield (increment) from the forest; this may be a counter-productive result from the point of view of the conservationist. A wildlife protagonist may demand suspension of all removals, including dead and fallen trees, as they provide valuable niches for hole-nesting animals, fungi, etc. A social activist may press for transferring control entirely to the local communities, leaving the forest departments with no legal powers. All types of experts may have a basic hostility to the forest department, and the process may rapidly go out of its control. The forest department, therefore, has to think deeply whether it is worth risking this situation.

While we may give due credit to the Bhopal-India (B-I) process for its pioneering work, we should not be under any illusions about the gulf between the B-I framework and what will be demanded of the system by FSC (or even PEFC). Some FMUs may perceive a need to have certification for a certain product or group of products, e.g. medicinal herbs in the Himalayan forest. It is not clear whether the FMU will be able to contain the certification process to the desired products. We cannot predict in advance what extent of changes an individual expert or consultant will demand as a result of the scoping visits. This sort of trial run by any individual FMU should be closely followed by the whole forest service and the central ministry, and lessons drawn as far as certification of government forests is concerned.

Such comprehensive efforts would build up a distinctly national, India-centered, approach to SFM, while not succumbing to the danger of transferring control entirely to external actors. India can develop its own home-grown SFM framework, oriented toward practical action on the ground, rather than introducing onerous inspection procedures and demanding reporting frameworks under the instigation and control of external operators, that give the advantage to international consultant interests at the cost of national sovereignty.


Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014. Managing India’s Forests. Village Communities, Panchayati Raj Institutions and the State. Monograph No. 32, Institute for Social & Economic Change, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. Posted at https://www.academia.edu/9235210/Managing_India_s_Forests_Village_Communities_Panchayati_Raj_Institutions_and_the_State).

FRI. 2012. National  Working Plan Code. Draft prepared by Forest Research Institute Dehradun (Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education). Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India.

Gale, Fred and Marcus Howard. 2011. Global Commodity Governance. State Responses to Sustainable Forest and Fisheries Certification. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Government of India. 2014. National Working Plan Code 2014. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Downloadable copy available at http://www.mahaforest.nic.in/act_rule_file/140898038616%20A%2001%20W%20P%20Code%202014.pdf

Higman, Sophie, James Mayers, Stephen Bass, Neil Judd and Ruth Nussbaum. 2006. The Sustainable Forestry Handbook. Second Edition, First South Asian Edition. The Earthscan Forestry Library. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Humphreys, David. 2006. Logjam. Deforestation and the Crisis of Global Governance. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Kotwal, P.C., M.D.Omprakash & Dharmendra Dugaya. 2008. Manual: Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in India: An Operational Framework. Operational Strategy for Sustainable Forestry Development with Community Participation in India: IIFM-ITTO Research Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Lele, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon. 2014. Democratizing Forest Governance in India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

MTCC. 2009. The First Ten Years 1999-2009. Written by Chew Lye Teng, Harninder Singh, Yong Ten Koong. Malaysian Timber Certifcation Council. Kuala Lumpur.

Upton, Christopher and Stephen Bass. 1995. The Forest Certification Handbook. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Yadav, Manmohan, P.C.Kotwal & B.L.Menaria. 2007. Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management. Centre for Sustainable Forest Management & Forest Certification: IIFM-ITTO Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Monday, November 6, 2017

50 Forest Certification-IV. Bhopal-India standards for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)

In India, the process of developing Criteria & Indicators (C&I) for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) was entrusted to the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) Bhopal, the so-called Bhopal-India Process. This was one among the international consultations initiated under the aegis of the ITTO, and meant to address the needs of “dry forests in Asia” covering nine countries (Humphreys, p.122). From another perspective, the Bhopal-India Process was meant to come up with a national framework for India itself. I base my account on some of their publications: a “Manual” for C&I for SFM in India (Kotwal, Omprakash & Dugaya 2008), and a more general survey of the subject of “Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management” (Yadav, Kotwal and Menaria 2007).

The publication by Yadav et al. (2007) gives a rapid overview of the concepts of SFM and C&I in the modern context, much like the other foreign publications already cited. Of special interest are the views on “why become certified” (p.47): demand from consumers for wood and paper products that have been independently certified as coming from sustainable forests; a mechanism to establish genuineness of claims to being sustainable; and in some countries, government requirements.

From the Indian context, my own feeling is that these considerations may not be very persuasive in the domestic market. Since much of the growing demand for wood products is being met from imports, the end consumer is not likely to reject a product (say, the Sustainable Forestry Handbook produced for the South Asian market) only because it does not bear the FSC certificate (I didn’t!). A few companies that wish to export their products may be keen to have a certificate: they will prefer to get it under an internationally recognized system. A purely government-run certifying outfit will not have much recognition (or credibility) in the western markets. Consumer organizations in those countries cannot be expected to assess and monitor foreign certifying frameworks unless the volume and value of merchandize traded is substantial. More than wood, there is the possibility that forest certification may be demanded for non-wood products like spices and beverages, medicinal plant products, aromatics, and similar. This may call for a different orientation in the certification strategy in India.

Another interesting item in Yadav et al. (2007) is their suggestions on the strategy for operationalizing the C&I in India (p.29). They make the significant point that a high level of commitment has already been demonstrated in the domestic context by such instruments as the National Forest Policy, the Joint Forest Management (JFM) orders, the several laws governing forests, wildlife, environmental conservation, etc. There is also the National Working Plan Code, which has “incorporated the strategy for operationalization of C&I”  (p.30). Now all that is required is to draw up the set of C&I suitable to the domestic policy and legal situation (including judicial orders), design reporting formats, and incorporate these in the WP Code. This will have to be followed by all the government forests in India, as they are required by orders of the Supreme Court to work the forests only on the basis of duly approved working plans.

A fairly well specified form of the C&I coming out of the Bhopal-India process has been presented in the second IIFM publication (Kotwal et al. 2008). This lays out a set of 8 Criteria, with a total of 37 related Indicators. This set is reported to have the endorsement of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (2008). Obviously the point of immediate interest would be to compare this with the international frameworks like the FSC. Here is the occasion for us to look at the actual list of C&I (or P&C in the FSC system), as in this very summarized table:

  8 Criteria (Bhopal-India)                             10 Principles (FSC)
C1. Extent of forest and tree cover               P1. Compliance with laws and FSC
C2. Biodiversity                                            P2. Tenure, user rights, responsibilities
C3. Forest health                                           P3. Indigenous peoples’ rights
C4. Soil & water conservation              P4. Community relations & workers’ rights
C5. Forest productivity                                 P5. Benefits from the forest
C6. Optimized forest utilization                    P6. Environmental impact
C7. Social, cultural, spiritual benefits           P7. Management plan
C8. Policy, legal, institutional Framework    P8. Monitoring and assessment
                                                                       P9. High Conservation Value forests

A cursory glance is sufficient to realize that these are two very different beasts. The FSC system consists of 10 Principles and as many as 55 constituent Criteria (not counting sub-items), whereas the Bhopal-I is a somewhat smaller set (8 Criteria with 37 Indicators, not counting sub-items).  It is also obvious that these two frameworks have different orientations. FSC is strong on stakeholders’ status and interests (the user or neighbouring community, especially if they are “indigenous” people, the environmentalist global community, etc.). The national set of C&I tends to give greater attention to the physical and biological state and productivity of the forest resource itself.

We can attempt a cursory comparison of the two systems. P1 (Principle 1) of the FSC has 6 items, which talk of adherence to all national and local laws as well as international conventions in signatory countries, and long-term commitment to the FSC principles themselves. However, the FSC has an item (Criterion) that refers back to commitment to the FSC principles themselves. One could as well have a requirement of commitment to the principles of SFM (Sustainable Forest Management) itself, which is a sort of endless loop. In case of conflict between laws and FSC Principles, such cases “shall be evaluated for the purpose of certification, on a case by case basis, by the certifiers and the involved or affected parties”, which looks like jargon for leaving it to the field practitioners. The corresponding Criterion (C) in B-I (Bhopal-India) is C8, “Adequacy of policy, legal and institutional framework”, which is a “Process” or “Input” level condition, whereas FSC P1 is more of a “Performance” or “Outcome” criterion. In B-I, probably, adherence to the law is taken as a given. Other components in B-I C8 are the existence and implementation of an approved Working Plan (which occurs in FSC P7), number of forest offence cases, status of research & development, HRD efforts, Forest Resource Accounting (including biodiversity status, carbon sequestration), monitoring & evaluation, data collection and utilization, manpower, etc. These are actually management functions that occur is P7 in the FSC framework.

The second FSC Principle (FSC P2) concerns tenure and use rights, with 3 sub-items, with emphasis on the empowerment of local communities; P3 specifically covers indigenous peoples, and P4, community relations and workers’ rights. Here is where the gap between the two systems starts to widen. C7 of B-I does specify “Maintenance and enhancement of social, cultural, and spiritual benefits”, but measured in terms of participation rather than empowerment as such: enrolment in JFM (Joint Forest Management) committees, use of indigenous knowledge (not so much ownership of intellectual property rights and payment therefor), and maintenance of sacred groves. In the case of state forests, it would appear that forest departments themselves would desire a firm authority for themselves to protect and manage, rather that giving formal control to communities. Local forest-dependent tribal communities (the equivalent of FSC’s “indigenous peoples”) are provided for in the more recent enactment of what is popularly known as the Forest Rights Act (2006), but it would appear that the forest department does not have formal jurisdiction over these areas any more. As regards workers’ rights, the law of the land will be supposedly followed as a matter of course. The social environmentalists’ advocacy for transferring power over forests to the village community is well argued in Lele & Menon (2014), while I have tried to present the case for a more balanced, cooperative sharing of power between community and the state apparatus, in my monograph (Dilip Kumar 2014).

Principle 5 of the FSC covers “Benefits from the forest”, which include all types of products and services, at a sustainable level of harvest or drawal, stressing the multiple use, multiple user aspects. B-I is also informed with a similar multiple use sustainability approach, so there should not be any large distance in this respect. FSC has a separate mention of “Environmental impact”, P6, which talks of soil and water conservation, ecosystem protection at the landscape level, biodiversity, etc. These are also covered as separate items in B-I: C1 Extent of forest/tree cover, C2 Biodiversity, C3 Forest health, C4 Soil & water conservation, etc. What is not required by B-I is a formal EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), which seems to be a requirement in FSC. Conversion of forest to plantations or non-forest use is expressly prohibited under FSC 6.10, except under certain stringent conditions. Such a clause is not seen in B-I, but then the entire issue is governed by the Forest Conservation Act 1980, not to speak of the various Court orders, hence it is probably taken as given in the legal-policy framework.

Principle P7 of FSC covers the “Management Plan”, which is subsumed in C8 “Policy, legal, institutional Framework” under the B-I framework, as 8.1(b), “Status of approved Working Plan”. Of course the structure and requirements of the forest working plan itself are described in great detail in the National Working Plan Code of the government forest department, which has been revised in 2014 to incorporate the social, environmental and sustainability concerns of the SFM discussion. Most of these principles and requirements are therefore reflected in the National Working Plan Code 2014, which is substantially the same as a 2012 draft prepared by the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun. Interestingly, this draft itself has been tailored closely to the Bhopal-India framework, and in fact takes over the reporting formats in toto from it.

Another facet of FSC worth mentioning would be the special concern with protection of what are termed (P9) “High Conservation Value forests”. As explained in the Sustainable Forestry Handbook, six HCVs have been defined (Higman et al.2006, p.152): four are areas having significant biodiversity or ecosystem values, and two referring to local communities’ traditional habits and habitat. Some of these are also covered in B-I, e.g. C2 “Maintenance, conservation and enhancement of biodiversity”, referring to both notified PAs (wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, etc.) and biodiversity status in forests. Indicator 2.6(b) also brings in “Status of non-destructive harvest of Non-Timber Forest Products”, and 6.2(a) “Status of non-destructive harvest of wood”, which probably intends to highlight the need to minimize collateral damage to surrounding stems during tree felling. Criterion C7 covers the social aspects, including Indicator 7.3 “Extent of cult of cultural/sacred groves”, which may answer to FSC High Conservation Values HCV5 and HCV6.

It may be fair to say that FSC strives to impose, or elicit, specific actions in support of the various components of SFM as outlined above. When one comes to the B-I system, it seems to take for granted a functioning SFM framework already on the ground, and seeks to draw attention to specific aspects through a long list of reporting formats, rather than through action points. For biodiversity conservation, for instance, B-I asks for reporting on the existing Protected Area network, rather than requiring the process to bring out additional needs. This is understandable, since B-I was drawn up by an academic institute (albeit with wide consultation) on behalf of the forest department, which is already governed by an elaborate set of laws, Court orders, etc., and which is already in charge of a huge forest estate managed necessarily on SFM principles with stringent and detailed documentation and process requirements. As mentioned above, many of the actionable points are delegated to the Working Plan Code in the Indian set-up, whereas FSC seems to be incorporating much of the details of SFM into the certification standards themselves. In other words, FSC is designed up on an assumption that little of the SFM framework exists already; B-I is drawn up taking the sustained yield forestry basis of management, working plan system, and legal framework of the forest department as a given. In comparing B-I with FSC, therefore, it may be fair to stipulate the pre-existing legal and institutional framework of Indian forestry as part and parcel of the situation being scrutinised at the time of consideration for certification.

In the next section, we will try to pull together these observations and insights, review the options available, and suggest a possible response at the national policy level to the question of Forest Certification in India.


Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014. Managing India’s Forests. Village Communities, Panchayati Raj Institutions and the State. Monograph No. 32, Institute for Social & Economic Change, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. Posted at https://www.academia.edu/9235210/Managing_India_s_Forests_Village_Communities_Panchayati_Raj_Institutions_and_the_State).

FRI. 2012. National  Working Plan Code. Draft prepared by Forest Research Institute Dehradun (Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education). Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. 

Gale, Fred and Marcus Howard. 2011. Global Commodity Governance. State Responses to Sustainable Forest and Fisheries Certification. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Government of India. 2014. National Working Plan Code 2014. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Downloadable copy available at http://www.mahaforest.nic.in/act_rule_file/140898038616%20A%2001%20W%20P%20Code%202014.pdf

Higman, Sophie, James Mayers, Stephen Bass, Neil Judd and Ruth Nussbaum. 2006. The Sustainable Forestry Handbook. Second Edition, First South Asian Edition. The Earthscan Forestry Library. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Humphreys, David. 2006. Logjam. Deforestation and the Crisis of Global Governance. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London. 

Kotwal, P.C., M.D.Omprakash & Dharmendra Dugaya. 2008. Manual: Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in India: An Operational Framework. Operational Strategy for Sustainable Forestry Development with Community Participation in India: IIFM-ITTO Research Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Lele, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon. 2014. Democratizing Forest Governance in India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

MTCC. 2009. The First Ten Years 1999-2009. Written by Chew Lye Teng, Harninder Singh, Yong Ten Koong. Malaysian Timber Certifcation Council. Kuala Lumpur.

Upton, Christopher and Stephen Bass. 1995. The Forest Certification Handbook. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Yadav, Manmohan, P.C.Kotwal & B.L.Menaria. 2007. Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management. Centre for Sustainable Forest Management & Forest Certification: IIFM-ITTO Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Sunday, November 5, 2017

49 Forest Certification-III. Competing frameworks, country responses

In the preceding sections, we saw that the Forest Certification framework developed mainly by international NGOs in the west, resulted in the Forest Stewardship Council or FSC, which has developed a set of Principles and Criteria (P&C) for good forest management and chain-of-custody verification. We mentioned that third world national governments had reservations or suspicions about the FSC, tending to see it as yet another ploy by vested interests in developed countries to impose external controls (especially on less developed economies). Business enterprises in developed countries also were initially hostile, and tried to work out ways to avoid the hegemony of the FSC scheme. In this section we take a look at some of the responses in selected countries, and the shape of some alternative schemes for forest certification.

Forest Certification in Australia 

A detailed account of the response to certification schemes in the forestry and fishery sectors in three countries of the developed world (Australia, Canada and the UK) has been given by Gale & Haward (2011), Chapter 8 of which gives a summarized comparative analysis. In Australia, the “policy network” in the forest sector, representing the “triadic” interests of government, business and workers’ unions, was “opposed outright” to the FSC (op. cit., p.236), and was “dismissive of certification in general and the FSC in particular” (p.237). They felt that domestic environmental concerns had already been addressed by the “Regional Forestry Agreements” agreed in the latter half of the 1990s, and there did not seem to be any demand in the Asian export markets for any additional certificates of sustainability.

But when Asian markets slumped in the late 1990s following the “Asian currency crises”, Australian exporters had to turn to North American and European markets, where forest certification was already “well advanced”, so some authoritative certificate of sustainability was found essential. The network “moved quickly after 1999 to establish the AFS”, the Australian Forestry Standard, endorsed by the national Australian Standards institution in 2002. This was seen as a lower-cost and less onerous (e.g. in respect of restrictions on clear-felling) alternative to the FSC. However, by the end of the first decade of the new century, increasing awareness of the effects of unsustainable logging and its relation to biodiversity and climate change, and increasing environmentalists’ pressure, led to a higher expected standard for sustainable forestry. Progress in certification in Canada’s boreal forests increased consumers’ choice.  As a result, the FSC “began to gain ground” (p.238).

Forest Certification in Canada

In contrast to the above, Canada’s forest policy networks (government, industry, and other stakeholders) were “early adopters” of certification, reflecting the “critical role” of forestry in the economy (Gale & Haward 2011, p.173). However, industry interests perceived the FSC as a high-cost option, and so quickly moved to set up the Canadian Sustainable Forestry Certification Coalition, which funded the development of a competing standard through the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Other possible options included the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards being developed by industry interests in the USA. For domestic Canadian companies, however, a home-grown scheme was considered more suitable. Despite this, Gale & Haward find that the FSC scheme has actually done better. One reason was the fairly pragmatic approach of the FSC players, in finalizing a regional standard for Canada’s boreal forests in 2004, that provided opportunities for pushing the FSC cause. The policy environment also became more “pluralistic” with inclusion of environmentalists and First Nations (p.246) in the process of formulating the FSC-BC Standard for British Columbia, which required logging companies to obtain FSC certification. The increasing preference for the FSC scheme was partly because the highly environment-conscious public came to have low confidence in the industry-backed certification schemes (p.247). Interestingly, at one stage (in 2001) the new executive director of FSC, Maharaj Muthoo, had signed an MoU to certify all Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources lands to the FSC standard, but this was unacceptable to the rest of the FSC organisation, and Muthoo was forced to resign (Gale & Haward, p.190). Nevertheless, New Brunswick state decided to make certification mandatory for major licensees in 2002, and Ontario in 2004. All this led to a jump in FSC certified area, from just 1 mha in 2004, to over 32 mha by end-2009, or “about 22 per cent of the total certified area of almost 150 million hectares” (p.191).

Forest Certification in the UK

In contrast to the neutral or competitive stance of government to forest certification in general (and FSC in particular) in the initial years in Australia and Canada, “the UK government played a major role in supporting FSC certification” through its main state agency, the Forestry Commission (Gale & Haward, p.222).  This mutual cooperation between state and FSC happened only after a period of intense debate and initial opposition within the “forest policy network”. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Forestry Commission had made gradual accommodation to “recreational, environmental and amenity interests”, and officially adopted the principle of ‘multiple purpose’ forestry (Gale & Haward, p.240). Despite this, the “network remained closed to external groups” and “strongly focused on protecting the rights of landowners, the interests of tree growers and the structure of the UK forest industry” (what is termed a “clientilistic” approach, p.249). Organizations representing those interests campaigned against the FSC, as impinging on private rights and imposing unacceptably high costs, and the Forestry Commission (which shared the dominant sustained-yield aggressive plantation-forestry paradigm) generally “sided with them” and sought some means for “sidestepping” FSC requirements (p.212, 252). The FSC in turn worked to develop an “exclusively non-state initiative” for a business-environmental partnership from outside. Two competing standards were thus under development during the 1990s: an FSC-Great Britain standard with the support of large NGOs like WWF-UK and FoE-UK (Friends of the Earth), and a state-sponsored UK Forestry Standard spearheaded by the Forestry Commission. The animosity between the FSC-led NGO campaign and the industry players was so high that the head of the Timber Growers’ Association (TGA) was moved to compare a WWF-organized meeting to discuss FSC certification to a ‘Nazi rally’, as repeatedly quoted by Gale & Haward in their book (2011, p.253).

What then led to a change of heart in the Forestry Commission toward FSC and third-party certification? The Forestry Commission started rethinking its forest management paradigm in the 1980s, and moved to “embrace multiple-purpose forestry”, which “called into question the absolutist notion of private property rights” (p.212). A “multi-departmental cost-benefit study” called into question the “domestic defence” rationale for the nation’s forest policy. Timber growers’ associations attempted to forestall pressure from public opinion by developing their own standards, such as the Forestry and Woodland Code for harmonizing the interests of industry and nature. WWF-UK, one of the main protagonists of certification, chose a pragmatic path of cooperation with the government and industry (with the Forestry Commission acting as a facilitator). These negotiations resulted in the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) in 1997-8, which simultaneously meets international FSC Principles & Criteria for sustainable forest management. Following this, many industry members started endorsing third-party certification, “especially with respect to its role in controlling illegal timber imports” (p.213). There was “an immediate and dramatic shift in the UK forest network towards the FSC” as the UKWAS was experienced as an acceptable pathway to obtaining the FSC certification, which was seen as a “Gold Standard” in the market (p.255). Most certification of forests in the UK so far is stated to be under the FSC-UKWAS  umbrella.

Pan-European Forest Certification (PEFC)

In contrast to the UK response endorsing the FSC, another major competing scheme was launched in 1999 by forest owners in six European countries (Austria, France, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden), initially called the Pan-European Forest Certification (PEFC). Humphreys (2006, p.127) calls this a “World War!”, which reminds one of the “Nazi rally” accusation against FSC in the UK. The creation of the PEFC “was principally a forest owner reaction against the FSC” (Humphreys, p.127), and in part a response to the “European Commission’s reluctance to intervene in favour of European forest owners”. The distinction of the PEFC is that it is a “mutual recognition framework through which national certification schemes can recognize each other as having equivalent standards” (Humphreys, p.127, emphasis added), rather than a single set of criteria in itself. In 2003, it was relaunched as the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification scheme.  PEFC uses nationally or regionally agreed sets of criteria and indicators (C&I) as basis for national-level standard setting. In Europe, PEFC uses the C&I adopted by the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) and its Operational Level guidelines. Humphreys does point out the different philosophies behind C&I frameworks (for SFM) and Forest Certification, but as we have discussed above, there is bound to be conflation of the two in most real world contexts, so perhaps too much need not be made of this issue. PEFC went ahead with recognizing and endorsing national-level (government-led) standards, in Australia, Chile, Brazil, Canada (Canadian Standards Association CSA), USA (US Sustainable Forestry Initiative SFI), and so on. By 2005, PEFC had certified (through these national schemes) by far the greater area, amounting to some 186 mha in 19 countries, as against some 68 mha in 66 countries by FSC. However some highly environment-conscious companies have opted for FSC certification (Humphreys, p.129).

Forest Certification in Malaysia

In the mid-1990s, campaigns by western NGOs against unsustainably haervested tropical timbers started biting into Malaysia’s exports (the primary source of the information presented here comes from the Malaysian Timber Certification Council’s publication The First Ten Years, MTCC 2009). Despite the international NGOs’ preference for a particular forest certification scheme throughout the world (p. 10; this refers presumably to the FSC), the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB) was given the task of developing a separate national scheme for Malaysia, following a multi-stakeholder seminar in April 1994. A “Pro Tem Committee on Timber Certification” (CTC) was set up and started functioning by early 1995 (including the WWF-Malaysia and Malaysian Nature Society), which then followed a phased approach to developing the certification system. The CTC recognized that international acceptance was already there for FMU (Forest Management Unit) level certification under existing systems like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), but wanted a national-level certification also for reasons of cost effectiveness.  In the meantime, the National Committee on Sustainable Forest Management (NCSFM) had been working from 1994 to elaborate the ITTO Criteria for Sustainable Tropical Forest Management, under a project supported by the Netherlands Timber Trade Association. All these initiatives were amalgamated in the National Timber Certification Council (NTCC) set up as an independent non-profit company (“limited by guarantee and not having a share capital") in late 1998. It was renamed the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) in June 2001.

Over a 3-year period accompanied by multi-stakeholder discussions, the MTCC took up development of the certification standards, field-testing of the standards and assessment procedures, training of auditors, registration of independent assessor companies, registration of peer reviewers, formulation of rules governing the use of the MTCC logo, appeals mechanism, and public comminication on this new certification system. Finalised by end-2001, and launched in January 2002, the set of 6 Criteria and 29 Indicators for forest management certification was known as MC&I (2001). WWF-M withdrew on the grounds that this set was inadequate, and   that they should stick to a more elaborate, 50 indicators set that had emanated from consultations in 1999. However, on the understanding that western markets needed a more recognized international scheme, MTCC continued working with stakeholders including FSC, resulting in the Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for Forest Management Certification dated 11 August 2004, based on the FSC P&C as a template, called MC&I (2002). There are also additional standards for plantations, MC&I (Forest Plantations), and two standards for Chain of Custody  (COC). In 2008, it was renamed the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme, MTCS. In 2009, the Malaysian scheme got endorsement from the PEFC as well.

Choosing between the forest certification schemes

The quarrel between the FSC and rival frameworks like the PEFC (or its constituent national schemes) would obviously come down to the actual standards set and to the rigour of monitoring and enforcement. In other words, the devil is in the detail. NGOs have criticised shortfalls in PEFC such as the lack of prohibition on future conversions of forest to plantations, allowing logging of old growth forests (Finland), lack of prohibition against genetically-modified (GM) trees, weak provisions on the rights of indigenous peoples (Humphreys, p.127), etc. Each of the rival schemes has tried to garner legitimacy by linking to international standards set-ups or through acceptance by governments. For example, PEFC obtained ‘associate status’ to the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), a body of national-level accreditation organizations; FSC failed to do so (Humphreys 2006, p.133). On the other hand, FSC helped set up another organization called the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL), “a group of international voluntary standard-setting, accreditation and certification organizations that aim to promote ecological sustainability and social justice and trade” (ibid.), but IAF has been unwilling to accord any recognition to it (as of Humphreys, 2006). Another framework being tried out (by WWF, for instance) is for a graded set of standards rather than a single cut-off, so that different organizations can aim at their preferred levels of performance in respect of different aspects like environmental, social, legal, and so on.

Developing countries where forest products are a significant portion of their national product or trade, often find themselves in a dilemma. On the one hand, there are the high expectations of environmental and social activists (such as the FSC’s founders) that may call for a major change from existing practices and legal-administrative frameworks. On the other hand, without certification that is responsive to such concerns and that is internationally recognized, they may lose out on market access. This choice may be especially significant for exporters of tropical timbers in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. The experience of Malaysia in dealing with forest certification, presents a good example.


Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014. Managing India’s Forests. Village Communities, Panchayati Raj Institutions and the State. Monograph No. 32, Institute for Social & Economic Change, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. Posted at https://www.academia.edu/9235210/Managing_India_s_Forests_Village_Communities_Panchayati_Raj_Institutions_and_the_State).

FRI. 2012. National  Working Plan Code. Draft prepared by Forest Research Institute Dehradun (Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education). Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. 

Gale, Fred and Marcus Howard. 2011. Global Commodity Governance. State Responses to Sustainable Forest and Fisheries Certification. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Government of India. 2014. National Working Plan Code 2014. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Downloadable copy available at http://www.mahaforest.nic.in/act_rule_file/140898038616%20A%2001%20W%20P%20Code%202014.pdf

Higman, Sophie, James Mayers, Stephen Bass, Neil Judd and Ruth Nussbaum. 2006. The Sustainable Forestry Handbook. Second Edition, First South Asian Edition. The Earthscan Forestry Library. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Humphreys, David. 2006. Logjam. Deforestation and the Crisis of Global Governance. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London. 

Kotwal, P.C., M.D.Omprakash & Dharmendra Dugaya. 2008. Manual: Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in India: An Operational Framework. Operational Strategy for Sustainable Forestry Development with Community Participation in India: IIFM-ITTO Research Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Lele, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon. 2014. Democratizing Forest Governance in India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

MTCC. 2009. The First Ten Years 1999-2009. Written by Chew Lye Teng, Harninder Singh, Yong Ten Koong. Malaysian Timber Certifcation Council. Kuala Lumpur.

Upton, Christopher and Stephen Bass. 1995. The Forest Certification Handbook. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Yadav, Manmohan, P.C.Kotwal & B.L.Menaria. 2007. Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management. Centre for Sustainable Forest Management & Forest Certification: IIFM-ITTO Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Saturday, November 4, 2017

48 Forest Certification-II. Early developments, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)

Forest Certification seems, on the face of it, to be a straight-forward and virtuous concept, which should receive approval and support from everyone concerned about the fate of the world’s forests. Its basic principle is that the power of the market (i.e. consumers) is used to give an advantage to forest products that are reliably certified to be from ‘sustainably managed’ sources, and to discourage, or even keep out, products from sources that cannot be so certified. In actuality, forest certification has been a field with many controversies and active competition among different sets of proponents. In fact these competing developments have been denoted as the “Certification Wars” by David Humphreys in his wide-ranging survey of the subject of global forest governance (Humphreys, 2006). This amount of controversy, even passion, has come about because the matter is not restricted to just forest management, but has economic and social, public and corporate, policy implications that affect a wide range of interests, as described in the context of three case-study countries (Australia, Canada, UK) by Gale & Howard (2011).

In the traditional dispensation where conservation and administration of forests on a large scale is mainly a government (public sector) activity, the usual path to making forest management more sustainable and responsive to public opinion, would be for the government to update operative manuals, improve implementation in the field, and strengthen the regulatory framework by enacting tougher laws and putting more personnel on the ground.  This is the pattern followed in India in the past decades, through new legislation like the Forest Conservation Act (1980) and the strengthened laws for wildlife protection, environmental standards, and the Forest Rights Act (2006). Innovative governance models like Participatory or Joint Forest Management (JFM) were also developed under the impetus of the revise National Forest Policy of 1988, that gave priority to ecological and social (community) interests and needs over the demands of commercial forestry (sustained yield of timber).

On the world stage, however, such State-sponsored actions were adjudged not to be quite effective in meeting the aspirations of all the stake-holders involved, especially from so-called civil society (the activist NGOs and environmental pressure groups). The criticisms clustered around two focal interests. One was the desire to move forest management from ‘maximum sustained yield’ of commercial output of the most desirable timber species, to a more biodiversity-friendly and ecology-based holistic management. The other was the social interest, namely restoring the traditional or historic rights of local communities (especially the so-called indigenous peoples), whose forest and other natural resources had been (in this view) expropriated by colonial forces, or by ‘national’ governments under the control of dominant groups.

Interest in forest labeling and certification as a means of conservation of the world’s forests emerged during the 1980s. Initially, there was some hope that concerted effort through the normal inter-governmental organizations would contribute to the process. The efforts by international organizations like the ITTO and the United Nations conferences on environment and sustainable development, to get member countries to sign on to environmental and social safeguards and inspection routines in management of forest (especially tropical forests), were however seen as too tardy and inadequate in the face of the forces ranged against the natural forest: a case of too little, too late. As the available forums tended to become mere ‘talking shops’ and failed to initiate concrete action, the activists started losing faith in State actors, and started moving to the concept of an independent, ‘third-party’ institution for setting standards and procedures, and accrediting private agencies to carry out the appraisal and monitoring process.

Some of the inter-governmental activities or initiatives that failed to satisfy the forest conservationists include the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP), the International Tropical Timber  Organization (ITTO), the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development (WCFSD), the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF), and the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) (Humphreys, op. cit.). One of the failures of the regular inter-governmental mechanism would appear to be the lack of decisive action in the ITTO during the 1980s and early 1990s to implement safeguards against unsustainable logging of tropical forests. A major instance of this heel-dragging was the proposal to set in place a certification and labeling system for tropical timber, which was stoutly opposed by the Malaysian government, with the support of the Indonesian and Cameroon delegates, in the 1989 Yokohama meeting of the organisation.

Another big disappointment would seem to be the failure to arrive at a strong enough Forest Declaration in the Rio Conference or UNCED, 1992 (the landmark United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). Developed countries put forward the idea that forests were a common heritage of all mankind, and hence the world community had the right and mandate to establish standards of sustainable use of these resources, including issues of tenure and rights of communities. To developing countries, these proposals smacked of a sinister effort to sneak in unacceptable non-tariff barriers to trade in tropical forest products, an unpleasant reminder of the colonial era. Naturally, they opposed them at the conceptual stage itself, insisting that these were domestic matters that should be left to the sovereign countries themselves. What came out of UNCED 1992 was a relatively “weak voluntary agreement” (Gale and Howard, p.28). known as the Forest Principles.

The failure of the international organizations and conferences to arrive at a legally-binding framework to eliminate unsustainable exploitation of tropical forests induced the environmental activists (the ECSOs – Environmental Civil Society Organisations, op. cit.) to shift their efforts to the private or voluntary side in the importing countries of the West. The idea was to develop their own standards and monitoring procedures through independent non-State agencies, and to canvas support for such a non-State labeling and certification system among importers and end-users in those countries. In essence, if the developing (exporting) countries were not prepared to play along, then the importing countries would impose their own set of rules, either through their governments and legal systems, or through market pressures. Once such an independent system gathered wide acceptance in the importing countries, then the exporting countries or companies (corporations) would in turn be forced to take on board the sustainability and social concerns, and work to obtain certification according to the norms imposed.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) system

The major pioneering framework for Forest Certification (FC) developed by the environmental activists (the ECSOs) in the West is called the Forest Stewardship Council, or the FSC. As mentioned above, prolonged lack of decisive action on the part of inter-government organizations like the ITTO, made the conservation activists and NGOs turn to the option of developing independent criteria and certifying mechanisms through non-governmental actors. In 1991, a working group of environmentalist NGOs convened by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), that included Greenpeace and the Rainforest Alliance, agreed to set up an independent certification scheme (for all forests, not just tropical) that was called the FSC, or Forest Stewardship Council (Humphreys, op.cit.). One special feature of the FSC is its constitutional structure: it is a confederation of the member organizations, rather than a central authority to which individual organization submit themselves. In this respect, it is more like a civil society institution rather than a controlling authority. Representation to all stakeholder interests is sought to be ensured by dividing the members into three groups, namely the social (civil society organization, forest workers, indigenous peoples’ groups, etc.), the economic (corporations, forest owners, retail sector) and the environmental (conservation NGOS etc.). Each group holds one-third of the vote shares, with “parity between developed and developing country stakeholders” (Humphreys, p.118).

What are the standards that the FSC system seeks to propagate (or, indirectly, impose)? In 1994, these were expressed in the form of nine principles for well-managed forests (the stronger label of sustainably-managed was avoided because of lack of consensus on its definition).  Later, a tenth principle was added to provide for plantations. (This was opposed by environmental NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as they held that plantations do not sustain biodiversity, local rights, etc.). The following are, very briefly and in paraphrase, the ten Principles (the first, as can be seen, entails a certain circularity as it refers back to the very FSC Principles that are being exposited):
The 10 Principles of Forest Stewardship of the FSC (Humphreys, p.120):
1. Compliance with laws (domestic and international) and the FSC Principles
2. Tenure and use rights and responsibilities to be clearly defined and established
3. Indigenous peoples’ legal and customary rights to be recognized and respected
4. Community relations and workers’ rights to be maintained and enhanced
5. Efficient use for economic viability, environmental and social benefits
6. Conservation of biological diversity, water and soil, fragile ecosystems
7. Management plan of appropriate scale and scope to be written and maintained
8. Monitoring to be conducted of management, social and environmental impacts
9. High conservation value forests to be specially maintained
10. Plantations to be planned and managed in consonance with these Principles

The detailed original statements of these Principles are more detailed and nuanced, and should be consulted for enlightenment; these are very condensed paraphrases. These Principles are further elaborated in a list of Criteria (46 Criteria for Principles 1-9, and 9 Criteria for Principle 10, as of 2006), which describe the performance standards expected of the forest management to be considered fit for certification. In order to attain uniformity in assessment and certification, the FSC does provide an option to develop national or regional guidelines to set the bar for each Principle and its constituent Criteria. To achieve this consensus, FSC supports “national initiatives” and “national” working groups that involve a wide range of stakeholders and interest groups. The certificates are of three levels: ’pure wood’, ‘mixed wood’, and ‘controlled wood’, depending on the degree of control exercised by the company of the sources and chain-of-custody of the material/s. Incidentally, this supports the suggestion made in the introductory section for a series of graded certificates, each indicating stronger control of management practices and satisfaction of the criteria specified by the FSC process.

The certification process entails actual visits by the certifying agency to the field, verification of records, interaction with stakeholders on the ground, etc. The FSC does not itself issue certificates, but instead authorizes specific independent agencies to do the assessment and issue the certificates. Thus FSC acts as an accreditation authority, rather than a certifying agency. Gale & Haward (2011, p.62) give a list of FSC-accredited certifying agencies, which interestingly are all based in Europe and North America (at the time of their writing).

An interesting issue is the relation of the FSC Principles and Criteria (P&C) framework to the so-called Criteria & Indicators (C&I) for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). These latter are the outcome of a different process during the 1990s, under the auspices of international bodies. The International Timber Trade Organization (ITTO) has a set of “Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests” (July 1992), and another set for the “Establishment and Sustainable Management of Planted Tropical Forests” (1993).  According to Humphreys (2006, p.119), “Nine regional C+I processes have been developed that between them cover 150 countries and 85 per cent of the world’s forest area”. This should not of course be taken to mean that this much of the forest is actually compliant with the respective C&I.  For instance, it includes the “Bhopal, India” process (December 1999), consisting of “8 Criteria and 49 Indicators at the national level for dry forests in Asia”, but to my knowledge, these have not yet become a legal or officially endorsed framework for anything. This situation, of course, is probably a cause for concern among academics and NGOs at the tardiness in India’s C&I process.

Academics make much of the distinction between the FSC Principles & Criteria  (for “good management”) versus the Criteria & Indicators for “sustainable management” (Humphreys, p.119). Humphreys finds that among the nine C&I processes he has listed, seven criteria of SFM are common:
1. Extent of forest resources
2. Forest health and vitality
3. Productive functions of forests
4. Biological diversity
5. Protective functions of forests
6. Socioeconomic benefits and needs
7. Legal, policy and institutional framework (Humphreys, p.119).

Humphrey finds significant “conceptual and practical” differences between the two sets of criteria. He does not see the SFM C&I scheme as useful to certify attainment of standards; indeed “As none of the C+I schemes have normative benchmarks, they provide evidence neither of sustainability nor of unsustainability” (Humphreys, p.119). One wonders, then, what the SFM frameworks are worth. He sees the SFM framework as regional and national level processes, whereas FSC is a global-level process but applicable at the FMU level. However, this does not appear to me to be such a critical difference, as the FSC criteria also have to be obviously tailored to local situations, and conversely the SFM framework could well be translated into achievable standards at the FMU level. He sees the SFM framework as used mainly by governments and policy-makers, and the FSC framework as used mainly by NGOs to provide market signals. This again appears to me a somewhat specious argument, as national players also have stepped in to provide their alternate frameworks to FSC certification, whereas FSC itself may be seen as a strong policy-level intervention by certain organizations and individuals for a certain purpose (using market pressures to reduce forest degradation in exporting countries).

My own view is that they are all of a family, and will influence one another, whether intentionally or not. At the forest management unit (FMU) level, it will obviously be illogical to have different sets of guidelines and standards for the same concern and the same operations just to satisfy different certifying schemes. Field managers require a clear set of guidelines and operating instructions.  They would like to work (to the extent they find feasible) to the more demanding and onerous of the criteria from either of the schemes, to derive the maximum advantage from the efforts (remember the joke about the Japanese firm which enclosed 0.01% defective parts separately, as per the American buyer’s quality standards!).

Countries like India have their own legal and policy frameworks for natural resource sectors like forests and forestry. The problem with the FSC scheme appears to be that it calls into question the authority of government and the principle of national sovereignty, as both the standards and the actual certification process are in the hands of independent (private, usually overseas) players. Given the experience with donor agencies and their consultants, who often seem to have a cozy arrangement of hopping between the two (NGOs and government, both in the Western Hemisphere), national governments in the ‘south’ are naturally suspicious of certification schemes like the FSC as yet another way of taking control of the erstwhile colonies.

At the national level (in India and elsewhere), there has been a long-drawn out process of developing a standards and assessment scheme for sustainable (or, for that matter, merely “good”) forest management. This includes both the existing framework of the national forest policy, forest and wildlife law, working plan code, and financial and administrative systems of the country, and further embellishments over and above these in emulation of the FSC standards, especially as regards government forests.

In the following sections, we shall discuss alternatives to the FSC in the international sphere, some individual country responses (USA, Canada, Australia, and Malaysia), and the progress achieved by the FSC and competitor schemes. We will also look at the related processes in India (the “Bhopal process” for C&I, and National Committee proceedings for Forest Certification). We will then close with a discussion on the options open in India in regard to Forest Certification.


Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014. Managing India’s Forests. Village Communities, Panchayati Raj Institutions and the State. Monograph No. 32, Institute for Social & Economic Change, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. Posted at https://www.academia.edu/9235210/Managing_India_s_Forests_Village_Communities_Panchayati_Raj_Institutions_and_the_State).

FRI. 2012. National  Working Plan Code. Draft prepared by Forest Research Institute Dehradun (Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education). Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India.

Gale, Fred and Marcus Howard. 2011. Global Commodity Governance. State Responses to Sustainable Forest and Fisheries Certification. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Government of India. 2014. National Working Plan Code 2014. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Downloadable copy available at http://www.mahaforest.nic.in/act_rule_file/140898038616%20A%2001%20W%20P%20Code%202014.pdf

Higman, Sophie, James Mayers, Stephen Bass, Neil Judd and Ruth Nussbaum. 2006. The Sustainable Forestry Handbook. Second Edition, First South Asian Edition. The Earthscan Forestry Library. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Humphreys, David. 2006. Logjam. Deforestation and the Crisis of Global Governance. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Kotwal, P.C., M.D.Omprakash & Dharmendra Dugaya. 2008. Manual: Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in India: An Operational Framework. Operational Strategy for Sustainable Forestry Development with Community Participation in India: IIFM-ITTO Research Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Lele, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon. 2014. Democratizing Forest Governance in India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

MTCC. 2009. The First Ten Years 1999-2009. Written by Chew Lye Teng, Harninder Singh, Yong Ten Koong. Malaysian Timber Certifcation Council. Kuala Lumpur.

Upton, Christopher and Stephen Bass. 1995. The Forest Certification Handbook. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Yadav, Manmohan, P.C.Kotwal & B.L.Menaria. 2007. Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management. Centre for Sustainable Forest Management & Forest Certification: IIFM-ITTO Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

47 Forest Certification-I. Introduction and relevance in India

In the global quest for ways to protect the world’s forests and to slow down, if not reverse, the pace of deforestation, much faith has been reposed in what is known as Forest Certification (FC) and the Criteria and Indicators (C&I) of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). The C&I are supposed to give an objective measure of how close the forest management is to a sustainable regime. The FC framework is supposed to provide an impartial process for inspecting each forest management unit (FMU) to assess its performance periodically and bestow an internationally recognized certificate of good practices.

By extension, the FC framework also provides for certifying and labeling the products that come out of such units. In principle, consumers can encourage the manufacturers to use more and more of these certified raw materials. By actively rejecting or shunning material coming out of unsustainable logging or poaching, consumers could theoretically put pressure on the primary producers themselves to clean up their act and adopt sustainable (‘green’) practices. Thus the undesirable practices that are resulting in deforestation the world over will be eliminated, especially in the forest-rich countries that are the world’s biggest exporters of timber, and by implication also the biggest contributors to deforestation.

Being voluntary and market-based, it is assumed that such mechanisms will be more economically ‘efficient’ than regulatory measures imposed from above. There is thus a long chain of logic in this model. It depends on institutions and processes to reverse the destruction of forests. Both producer and consumer countries are expected to fall in with this logic and subscribe to the principles of FC and the accompanying C&I, and moreover to work through internationally recognized organizations that offer such a service.

To the traditional forester, all this would appear too elaborate and indirect. The obvious preferred alternative would seem to be a stronger legal framework and more determined action on the ground, rather than innovative institutional reform. The pattern initiated by the colonial British administration in the 19th century (itself based on the European model) laid primary emphasis on notifying forest reserves, survey and demarcation on the ground (by stone pillars, cairns, etc.) and on the official maps, and physical patrolling to apprehend poachers/smugglers and prevent encroachment. Only after the estate itself was secured, could attention be paid to the optimal utilization of the crop.

However, the best colonial minds did recognize the need to satisfy the subsistence needs of the local communities (fuelwood, fodder, leaf manure, small timber, various ‘minor’ forest products for domestic use and barter, and so on), and many leading foresters did call for developing ‘fuel and fodder reserves’, for example. The classical approach has been to identify the predominant role and potential of different parts of the forest estate: basically in three categories, namely (ecological) protection, production (of marketable wood), and support to subsistence needs (of rural communities).

In the current National Forest Policy (of 1988), priority has been given to the ecological-environmental and livelihood support functions, with production of (industrial) wood for the market being of lowest priority. This is in contrast to the 1952 Forest Policy, which gave highest priority to the needs of the national economy. Schooled in this ‘command-and-obey’ style, Indian foresters developed a ‘compromise’ approach to local participation, commonly termed Joint (or Participatory) Forest Management (JFM). The communities are encouraged to set up institutions for collective action to protect and nurture the (usually degraded) forest assigned to them, but they have to operate under the forest law, and the assigned forest official usually maintains control on the bank account and on the field operations.

This is criticized by social environmentalists, who hold that the local community has to be given full control and autonomy, in order to be able to internalize both private and public costs and benefits, and take optimal decisions with the confidence that they will be able to reap the benefits of any sacrifices made in the short term. In the absence of such security of tenure and reduction of uncertainty, the view holds, the community will opt for short-term benefits, contributing to the over-exploitation and rapid degradation of the natural resource, leading to the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

Foresters, and many informed scholars, however point out that communities are generally more successful in sustained management of such open-access resources, where they work in collaboration with the larger institutions in society, such as the law-and-order mechanism, the judiciary, the political set-up, and the local administration. The last would include the forest department and its ‘eyes and feet’ on the ground. In this context, Forest Certification (FC) by itself is not generally looked at very enthusiastically, and usually not seen as a panacea. This may explain the relatively slow adoption of the FC system in the Indian forest sector, despite the strong endorsement from the international community. Additionally, it poses a dilemma to the government (the forest ministry), as there is already a very elaborate and strong legal and administrative framework governing the management and utilization of forest resources in the country. The FC framework could be seen as impinging on this basic structure, and transferring powers and functions of supervision and control that rightly belong in the national constitutional institutions, to private entities with ambiguous authorization under the constitution.

In a country like India, therefore, the whole FC debate and strategy would have to take into account the existing legal and administrative structure, rather than treating it as tabula rasa and introducing a completely new set-up. This is the challenge that needs to be addressed by the government (the forest ministry), as it strives to reconcile the pressures of the international FC lobby, with the realities of the existing situation, and the ideas of the fairly strongly entrenched forest service.

One of the issues with FC as developed by the international bodies, is the sheer amount of information and tedious detail that is expected of the FMU (Forest Management Unit). Practical forest administrators and managers however require specific questions that can be answered in a concise manner with existing management information. The recently developed concepts of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) extend far beyond the growth and yield of the forest, into the sphere of socio-economic and cultural issues. Most of these frameworks carry long lists of Criteria and Indicators (C&I) that number in the dozens, each demanding enough data collection and analysis to keep many Ph.D. scholars busy for years.

In the context of the on-going exercise to develop a national framework for certification in India, we will need to examine how this new framework (the C&I, the inspecting procedures, the institutions that will need to be created) will relate to the international FC schemes already in operation. As we well know, there is already a wide range of laws and monitoring mechanisms for forestry in the country: we are not starting with a bare ground. However, it is evident that even the most stringent of the laws and monitoring agencies do not envisage as wide-ranging a coverage as these international FC schemes. Complying with these new reporting requirements may well impose a crushing administrative burden on forest management entities in the country.

Forest Certification being potentially such a costly undertaking in terms of manpower (and money, too), not every forestry administrative unit should need to go into it, unless there were a very good justification. One would have to demonstrate that there are no simpler and more closely targeted alternative means of achieving the important objectives (biodiversity conservation, or safeguarding livelihoods of the forest-dependent, for instance).  Therefore, what is called for is a sober look at who the FMU’s clients are, and what purpose will be served by the certification exercise. One has to be aware that once such a comprehensive scheme (which to all intents is beyond average human capacities to satisfy) is written into any government directions or statute, then much of the forest department's activities will become highly questionable and vulnerable to legal challenge. Such frameworks may be seen as representing the ultimate envelope of (perhaps) well-intentioned aspirations, but not a reasonable framework for action in practical circumstances.

To sweeten this somewhat harsh judgement, a few suggestions are offered, after looking at the experience of other countries placed in similar circumstances. For instance, instead of one level of standards, we may think of a series of graded levels, starting from a fairly simple certificate of legality, then proceeding by stages to more exacting requirements. We could think of different levels of sustainability, translated into basic, intermediate, and advanced levels of certification, or say silver, gold, platinum, diamond, certificates. This will provide users some options, and also provide a less onerous learning curve.

For the initial phase, we could restrict the scheme to only PRODUCT certification, rather than trying to cover such a wide gamut of environmental and social sector criteria in the management of the forest. Hence the scheme may be called the Forest PRODUCT Certification Scheme, which will give consumers a basic assurance of legality and quality under the existing laws of the land.

It would be desirable to have more discussion with the main stakeholder, i.e. the forest officers in the field, who may well be the scheme’s main target. Too elaborate and onerous a certification framework may not really add to their effectiveness, and there may be many ways in which it will make their functioning more difficult. As an alternative, we could suggest tailoring schemes to more specific client groups. For example, one may start with a certification scheme narrowly tailored to farm forestry clients, or another tailored to corporate clients like paper mills that have forest (tree) plantations.

In the context of India, the central Ministry of Environment & Forests had undertaken a long and extensive series of consultations and deliberations, involving forest officers as well as outside experts and academic institutions. Before proceeding, a review of this process (including the deliberations of the Expert Committees, and the pilot projects undertaken in a few divisions in central India by the IIFM, Bhopal) may be carried out, and feedback obtained from the field personnel and stakeholders associated with those pilots.

Against this summary introduction, the ensuing sections will proceed to discuss the idea of Forest Certification in greater detail, including the efforts made so far in India to set up suitable institutions and mechanisms for Forest Certification (FC). Some information on other countries’ experience will be presented, followed with a discussion and recommendations.

[This article is being posted after a pretty long period trying to get an understanding of this nebulous (foggy) topic. The long gap in postings was because I got busy with various courses (I finished an MA in Sociology). Thanks for viewing!]

Sunday, May 1, 2016

46 Summary and conclusions. Modernizing the Indian Forest Service-X.

Revisiting the issues

This final section is to go over the main points made previously, and pull together the various suggestions made. The essay seeks to understand the current feeling of discontent with the forest service in India, and the various pressures for change and modernization from different quarters; and what sort of response the forest service has made, or should be making, in dealing with actual activities as well as dealing with public perceptions.

A pdf of the entire article is available at https://www.academia.edu/24965216/Modernizing_the_Indian_Forest_Service_from_command_to_collaboration

Section I (Post 37) set the broad background and agenda of the essay, by recounting the main strands of contemporary critique of the forest service. These include such issues as: 1) the identification of the forest service with the colonial regime, serving those interests under cover of concepts like ‘scientific’ or ‘sustained’ forestry; 2) the need to replace the top-down agenda of the forest service with an alternative ‘bottom-up’ approach predicated by transfer of rights to the people; 3) the need to infuse more scientific content into the activities of the forest service; 4) the related need to develop specialization and professionalism, e.g. in wildlife management, even to the extent of splitting the service; 5) the need to test the competence of forest officers as specialists through their success in publishing papers in peer-reviewed media; 6) the need to broad-base lines of recruitment into the service, even bringing in people from civil society through lateral entry, and reverting to the state services by doing away with the all-India service; 7) giving primacy to civil society influence on the priorities and strategies to be adopted rather than allowing the service to take final decisions; and so on.

Section II (Post 38) drew the parallels of the present-day forest service with the classical bureaucracy described by Max Weber, the German sociologist, in his early 20th century writings. Reference was also drawn to contemporary American political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s analysis of the early success of the US Forest Service, similarly based on recruitment of young aspirants from the open market, strong professional ethos, shared values and esprit-de-corps, etc., that made the USFS one of the best examples of effective state bureaucracy. However too much acquiescence to diverse agendas from civil society, especially for fire prevention, resulted in the USFS losing its original focus, leaving it in a less than happy state today. Something similar seems to have befallen the once fighting-fit Indian Forest Service as well, although the seed of its decline was probably an over-indulgence of industrial interests, rather than over-emphasis on fire protection as in the US case.

Section III (Post 39) traced the hoary traditions of social scientists’ engagement with the forest rights question, starting from the great Karl Marx’s essay on the “Wood Theft Law” in 19th century Germany. This clearly demonstrates how matters of forest control, that appear to the forester to be straightforward questions of the administrative set-up, are transformed into much larger questions of the relationship of the state to the individual and the status of basic human rights. However, the founding father of colonial forestry, Dietrich Brandis, observing the aftermath of the distribution of forests to the communities in the 1848 ‘revolution’ in Europe, could discern the ill-effects of such divesting of ownership, confirming his championing of a certain degree of state control on use and misuse of forests to guarantee sustainability to posterity. Another example of social commentary on state control of forests was drawn from James Scott’s work on the repeated failure of state-sponsored social engineering, of which the ‘scientific’ sustained yield forestry of 19th-century Europe, especially Germany (on which much of organized forestry in the colonies is modeled), was once again the favourite case study.

Section IV (Post 40) took up the call for improving scientific expertise and developing foresters as scientists of international repute. The impediments to developing a scientific or scholarly career in the midst of the routine demands of the job, were explained. In order to provide opportunities for the brightest among the forest officers to develop such a scholarly, advanced, academic competence and recognition, a few schemes had been proposed in the ministry during 2010-12. The first of these to be implemented is the Hari Singh Fellowship for IFS probationers, which sends the selected officers to a year’s specialized course in subjects like wildlife, immediately after the initial professional training at the IGNFA Dehradun. Other parallel proposals, i.e. the C.R.Ranganathan award for overseas study, the S.K.Seth award for middle-level officers, and the Dietrich Brandis award for senior and retired officers, have not yet been initiated. The point was made that developing excellent specialists does not end with the initial specialized course, but calls for a protracted period of dedicated effort on the part of the aspirant, complemented by support and approval from the service and department, as well as mentoring and collaborative work with persons of eminence in the chosen field, both at home and abroad. This is how the current experts like Ullas Karanth (wildlife) have been developed, and the forest service needs to study and emulate such processes if the current crop of young hopefuls (the Hari Singh fellows) are to make something of their initial start on the road to eminence as specialists.

Section V (Post 41) explained the traditional resistance of the forest service to splitting the service between forestry and wildlife, and to the even more extreme suggestions of the National Forestry Commission (2006) of making additional cadres for social forestry and for research and working plans. It was suggested that the disillusionment with the service of prominent personalities, like Valmik Thapar, could be ascribed to a basic cultural gulf from the middle-class members of the service. Another concerted effort, spearheaded again by persons like Thapar, was to split off the forests and wildlife as a separate department from the environment ministry. This was shot down by the committee of secretaries in the government of India, leading to much heartburn among the proponents, but it is suggested that the service should move towards integration with related fields like environment, rather than seeking to isolate itself. It was pointed out that the two pressures were internally discordant: one, for making the service sharply focused on specializations, and the other, making it inclusive and broad-based by opening recruitment to all types of graduates and providing for lateral entry from civil society at the highest levels, and so on.

Section VI (Post 42) addressed the tension between increased specialization and broader inclusive strategy in aspects such as recruitment to the service and applying science in forest management. The point was made that there cannot be a fundamental objection to allowing graduates in social sciences to compete in the IFS recruitment process conducted by the UPSC, but because classical sustained yield forestry had a strong base in measurement of trees and crops and calculation of financial criteria, a certain level of mathematics has been traditionally demanded at entrance itself. This is provided for in the UPSC exams by the requirement that at least one of the science papers should have been given in the undergraduate degree, and Statistics being one of these, it is conceivable that social sciences graduates could find themselves eligible if they had given Statistics at their Bachelor’s degree level. The suggestion was made that the eligibility clause could be expanded to include the post-graduate level as well, as many MA programmes do have Statistics as a mandatory paper (especially in economics, sociology, anthropology, if not others).

More critical for the modernization of the service, however, is the need to identify aspirants who have a certain flair or passion for nature, outdoors activity, and working with a field force and local communities. An analysis of the changes made in the UPSC selection process in 2012 was presented, with the clear indication of the rapid ascendance of engineering graduates in recent batches. This suggests great challenges to the training institution (IGNFA), as well as opportunities on the assumption that these engineering graduates will have superior mathematical, computer, and technical skills. The irony is that the most popular papers chosen in the exams were Forestry and Geology, not the physical sciences; the advantage imputed in past years to forestry graduates was thus eliminated and, ironically, the relative ease of scoring in Forestry was taken advantage of by the engineering graduates. For comparison, it was noted that a similar role was played by social sciences like Politics or History in the main civil services exams.

While the training institute (the IGNFA Dehradun) has made many changes to the training curriculum and techniques over the years that seem to have improved the competence and morale of the young entrants, it was suggested that an overhauling of the curriculum may be called for in response to the changed forest policy environment. For instance, the ecological and social role of forests being of the highest priority, in contrast to industrial material or financial returns, it may be desirable to reverse the very order in which these concerns are introduced. Rather than starting with measurement of volume and growth in the first hill tour, perhaps the initial emphasis should be on the environmental conservation angle of hill forests, followed by the patterns of dependence of local communities and the political economics of common property use and management. Production forestry could be introduced at a later stage, and the accent could be on the role of financial criteria in private forestry, rather than on conversion of natural forests. The main texts of the social (and judicial) critique of the traditional sustained yield forestry, and the modifications introduced by the concepts of sustainable forestry, should be presented and processed in depth.

Section VII (Post 43) discussed the knotty issues surrounding the role of forestry in the universities. It was argued that the very motivation for these courses (which were initiated in the 1980s) was somewhat confused, as protagonists of these courses seemingly thought that the graduates would be destined to take up the actual implementation of afforestation programmes. This approach was based on a wholly unjustified and unjust judgement that the forest departments were not capable of taking up the responsibility. The result is that these forestry graduates are caught between two posts: they are not guaranteed any positions in the state forest departments (they have to go through the same competitive process as all other eligible graduates for the forest services), and they have to strive extra hard to develop research projects as they do not have easy access to field forestry resources. Often university graduates drift to socio-economic critiques of forestry as an alternative to bio-physical research (which is highly demanding of time and logistics support), and thus become somewhat adversarial to the state forest departments. All this does not bode well for the future growth of forestry as a science. In this respect, some of the forest industries like MPM Bhadravathi, ITC Bhadrachalam, WIMCO, etc. seem to have done much better forestry research, utilizing the services of the self-same university graduates in collaboration with some retired forest officers. However, social environmentalists do not think much of these efforts as they have an ideological bias against forest industry, monocultures, etc.

Section VIII (Post 44) discussed the issues concerned with research, and the need to make the scientists in the forest research institutes feel an integral part of the forest establishment. Efforts may be required to improve access of scientists to some of the senior administrative posts in the Council. Recruitment processes of scientists may need to be decentralized, or at least dispersed to the outlying institutes and centers, to overcome the impression that persons from Uttarakhand state or Dehradun have a differential advantage. The two-edged nature of the move toward autonomy of the ICFRE was discussed; it appears that the more the Council attempts to ask for autonomy, the more it ends up as neither the ministry’s baby nor effective on its own. The budgets provided by the central government are now just sufficient for meeting the establishment and routine expenditure of the ICFRE, and it would be advisable to at least double the budgets over the course of the current Plan period, so that the institutes will be in a position to take up more activities. Since field forestry is the central mandate of the forest departments, the ICFRE institutes will need to forge strong ties with them, both for research agenda setting and for field activities. Some comparative figures of the size of forest scientist personnel from China and India was presented to show the need to increase the sheer numbers, so as to achieve a ‘critical mass’ in our forest institutes.

Section IX (Post 45) dealt with the need to make effective use of communication and information media, emulating some of the NGO groups who have been successful in their advocacy programmes. With the rising public interest in natural history, conservation, climate change, environmental conservation, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, protection of indigenous and traditional cultures, and so on, the type of information put out will have to be improved. No longer will official reports on annual budgets satisfy the hunger for information and intellectual stimulation. Actually the forest service is in a relatively advantageous situation here, as it has assured access to the best and remotest natural areas, tribal centers, and so on. The forest departments have undertaken innumerable experiments in all these spheres, including working with tribals. These experiences need to be described, developed as case studies and documentaries, and put out on the media in such a way as to bring out the voice of the people on the ground, rather than as drab official reports. The help of creative media persons could be taken to develop such material. Ideas for certain new institutions like a Knowledge Forum, a Center for Information and Documentation, and even an Institute for  Sustainable Forestry, have been presented to enable such creative work and provide appropriate forums for collaboration with civil society resource persons outside the walls of the ministry.

Should the forest service be responsive?

Finally, the question arises whether the situation is really so serious as to warrant a response. Many foresters may feel that the criticisms are merely idle commentaries by social academics and activists who seek to gain popularity by such activities, and that the forest department can continue with its traditional approaches and ignore them. On the other hand, many foresters themselves have striven to develop a new paradigm for the department, for example through the devise of joint forest management (JFM). With a large number of academics and professionals getting involved in research and advocacy on behalf of community rights, as exemplified by the Forest Rights Act campaigns, it is unlikely that the forest service will be allowed to go on with its activities without modification. Hence it will be necessary for the service to organize its own study and analysis of such questions, in a framework acceptable on the stage of public academic discourse, complete with comparative analysis, case studies, time-line studies, and so on, so that the forest service can take part in an informed and competent way in these discussions.

A similar question was examined in connection with joint forest management in the author’s paper in the Karnataka Forest Department’s journal Myforest (Dilip Kumar, 1990). The point was made that the forest department should be in a central leadership position in this sphere, rather than be at the receiving end of innovations imposed from outside. If the experiment were to prove a success, the positive contribution of the department would be recognized and the service gain some improvements in its image and influence. If the experiment were to come apart and become a failure, the department would at least be in a situation where the situation could be rapidly retrieved and the negative effects minimized. Keeping aloof would only reinforce public perception of the service as uncooperative or hidebound and inflexible. In any case, it would be to the long-term advantage of the service, and the cause of forests, that the service be sensitive to the needs and desires of the people, as well as to the aspirations, perceptions and frustrations of the political class and their fellow-travelers, the social activists.

This article, as all others on this site, is the intellectual property of the author, P.J.Dilip Kumar (IFS, Retired). You are welcome to reproduce it with due acknowledgement. Suggested citation is as follows:
Dilip Kumar, P.J. Year. “TITLE”. Forest Matters, Nos. xx-xx (Month & Year). Available at: www.forestmatters.in or www.forestmatters.blogspot.in


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