Embracing Complexity to Find Simple Solutions for Smallholders in the FSC System

Embracing Complexity to Find Simple Solutions for Smallholders in the FSC System
May 4, 2021
Category : General news

FSC Chile is implementing a new approach towards getting more smallholders certified by working with a broad group of stakeholders towards impactful and mutually beneficial outcomes.


  • How can FSC encourage smallholders and communities to acquire FSC certification? 
  • How can we ensure profitability of certification for our smallholders? 
  • What are the issues these communities are facing towards accessing markets? 

These questions and many more are being carefully explored in FSC Chile’s long-term engagement with local stakeholders to secure a systemic approach towards developing enabling conditions for smallholder and local community certification uptake. This is through the implementation of a new innovative system approach called the collective impact methodology; a new approach implemented by FSC. 

Embracing Complexity to Find Simple Solutions for Smallholders in the FSC System

What does that mean? 

Smallholders and communities around the world face similar issues in preserving their forests and implementing responsible forestry practices; ensuring their livelihoods and a future is often at the cost of their forests. This is due to a variety of factors such as competing land interests, subsistence farming needs, difficulty in connecting to profitable supply chains, and more. FSC Chile implementing a new state of the art approach in developing a common agenda for local stakeholders towards empowering smallholder, Indigenous Peoples and local communities in gaining FSC certification and ideally make a living from responsible forestry. Guided by the University of Stanford’s “collective impact methodology” FSC Chile has been proactively engaging with a multitude of stakeholders towards developing local solutions. The collective impact methodology is incumbent on collaboration between stakeholders based on the following 5 conditions: 

  • Common agenda 
  • Shared measurement system 
  • Mutually reinforcing activities 
  • Continuous communication 
  • Backbone organization 
Embracing Complexity to Find Simple Solutions for Smallholders in the FSC System

So; what happened? 

Putting this into practice is easier said than done. Chile creates an especially interesting case as there exists a considerable amount of bias by smallholders who believe FSC is beneficial only to large business; a view fortified with data where over 50% of all FSC certificates in Chile are owned by only 3 companies. So FSC Chile needed to bring in more stakeholders to learn about these issues and find common objectives. An integral part of this process is mapping stakeholders, so FSC Chile has been conducting a series of virtual interviews and roundtable discussions due to not being allowed to meet in person. By including and mapping an extensive list of actors the project has also increased the number of interested stakeholders. The information gathered from these sessions will be compiled into a collaborative action plan for 2021-2026.  

The team has already landed a success by capitalizing on a recent effort of the local government to focus on local communities, even securing a Memorandum of Understanding to work in cooperation with governmental authorities to find innovative solutions together.  

Despite the project being in its early stages and facing setbacks from the pandemic, some initial key learnings are as follows: 

  • Local intervention techniques work best with bottom-up efforts.  
  • True change is a process, not a project 
  • National FSC standards must include indicators more relevant to smallholders. Chilean smallholder producers present a unique situation in that they use their land both for forests and agriculture; which should be reflected in the national standard.  
  • Engagement can help alleviate existing biases, which should not be ignored or perceived as unsolved conflicts. Through continued engagement, smallholders and local communities began to get involved despite any pre-existing bias with FSC and the local government.  
Embracing Complexity to Find Simple Solutions for Smallholders in the FSC System

What’s next? 

We are proud of the work done so far with the collective impact methodology related to certification and smallholders in the FSC system. In stakeholder mapping alone, it was clear that focusing on smallholders would generate a collective change and benefit towards local forest and market solutions, along with other benefits including recognizing a group of people previously ignored, i.e. social recognition. Regina Massai, FSC Chile Executive Director, says “the collective impact initiative in Chile is about tackling social issues with business solutions, it also allows exploring other solutions of a different nature, which is what we are doing here to add value to smallholders and communities through FSC certification. The involvement of the Board of Directors of FSC Chile in the design of the project has also been crucial to guide and focus relevant actions.”  

Despite still being in the beginning phase, the ongoing work was already highlighted as an effective case study by ISEAL. We look forward to continued collaboration and building best-practices as we continue exploring innovative approaches to apply globally in order to encourage responsible forestry as a prosperous livelihood for smallholders, communities, families and Indigenous Peoples everywhere. To learn more about the project contact Regina Massai, Director of FSC Chile at r.massai@cl.fsc.org or the FSC Community & Families Forest Program by contacting Vera Santos, v.santos@fsc.org. Additional information about other projects utilizing the collective impact methodology at FSC can be read here.