By Alistair Monument, leader of WWF’s Global Forest Practice

Forest conservation begins with people, whether it be consumers using wood products or communities living in them.

While there has been success over the past 25 years working with big companies, and on the global commodities that drive forest loss, we must urgently develop mechanisms to engage communities and smallholders to improve natural resource management in a way that brings about both conservation and delivers economic benefits.

Consumer demand for all types of commodities, including forest products, is expected to triple by 2050. Meanwhile, the rate of deforestation has risen in tropical countries and forest degradation – which threatens the viability of forests’ ecological functions for wildlife and people – is occurring at an even larger scale.

At WWF, our vision is of a world enriched by extensive, resilient forest landscapes that benefit biodiversity, people and climate. This is underpinned by the desire to create vibrant, sustainable landscapes that balance conservation and economic benefits for the long term. Well managed forests are a critical part of these landscapes: maintaining species habitats, buffering protected areas and providing economic values that prevent them from being converted into other land uses.

It is time to innovate and expand the development of approaches that are focused on forest-dependent people, particularly communities and smallholders who are often ignored in the global marketplace but who have a critical role to play in more efficiently and sustainably using the resources they have the rights to, and depend upon.

For 25 years, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been the benchmark for sustainable forestry. With its multi-stakeholder approach and democratic structure, FSC can provide a platform to local groups that are often marginalized in forest management discussions.

FSC can play an important role by helping increase the value of forest resources for local communities and it is critical to bring tools that allow them to benefit from managing their forests sustainably. This is already happening in places like Vietnam, where supply chains linked to multi-nationals demanding FSC product are helping support smallholders with certification assessment and training costs, or in New Guinea, where community forestry is opening up new economic opportunities for locals. These examples demonstrate that when local communities are equipped with the right tools and given responsibility to manage their natural resources, they can protect those resources in a way that sustains both their economic livelihoods and natural resources in the long term.

This work needs to happen at scale if we are to tackle deforestation and forest degradation at the local level, and we haven’t yet implemented approaches to make engagement in FSC, at the smaller scale, easy enough and compelling enough to get a real movement of growth in the places where it could be of most benefit to people and nature.


Expanding its work with smallholders requires simplifying FSC processes and taking an outcome-oriented approach while also enabling appropriate flexibility to account for local contexts. The New Approaches for Smallholders work that FSC has started needs to move urgently from theory to practice if we are to use FSC certification as a tool to prevent forest loss and degradation.

It will also be critical for FSC to explore new and innovative solutions such as in South Africa, where a national FSC standard is under development using risk-based approaches to create impact in the local context. We need more such efforts with input from communities and a diverse group of stakeholders to find what works and can be replicated, to enable better forest management, more equitable resource governance and benefit sharing, and deliver safeguards for the environment.

Credibility is still crucial, and FSC needs to implement safeguards to avoid companies misusing the system. New tools and technologies that make FSC more accessible in the forest and strengthen the chain of custody can reduce costs and bureaucracy while also improving the integrity of the system.

As we prepare for the FSC General Assembly next week – an event that will bring together more than 700 people vested in the future of FSC – we must collaborate to improve the system and help address both existing and new challenges facing forests. Whether it be conserving intact forest landscapes (IFLs), or devising rules on certification for converted plantations and incentives for restoration and conservation, FSC and its members need to come together to find solutions that work for people and the planet.

FSC’s structure needs to change to reflect the changing world, and the Governance Review mandated from the 2014 General Assembly needs to ensure that decisions can be made efficiently with the right level of expertise and understanding of the impact on the ground.

The world is at a critical juncture for conservation – we’re consuming as if we had 1.6 Earths at our disposal, and the impact of climate change is wreaking havoc on human social and economic wellbeing.

FSC is the only forest certification scheme that’s demonstrated real positive impact for both people and wildlife, and we see it as a key platform to address challenges in forest management. As FSC steps into its 25th year, we need to act, with tangible action, leadership and the implementation of the bold changes identified in the FSC 2020 Global Strategic Plan to ensure that it can be effective for the people and communities that live and work in the world’s forests.