Conjures up images of forests laid bare by illegal logging, and of the constant threat to many exotic animal, bird and plant species. But, did you know that buying certified tropical wood products could in fact ensure the forest and everything in it is around for decades more and beyond?

This is according to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), whose role it is to take care of forests so that they are able to meet the social and economic needs of society, while maintaining their biodiversity.

The Congo Basin is located near the equator in Central Africa. This region is home to the world’s second largest rainforests and a biodiversity hotspot. It is the habitat of multiple animal species such as mountain and lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants, and many different species of birds and plants.

In addition, the Congo Basin is home to a sizeable human population, challenged by poverty and often lacking basic education and access to health services. People in the region depend on timber as a source of jobs and economic development.

FSC certification ensures that the certified forests are managed in such a way that there is no long-term net loss of forests, and that the biodiversity of the forest is maintained. Specifically, FSC certification ensures that management plans are developed to ensure species at risk are protected during the responsible forestry process.

However, FSC certification would not be sustainable without the buy-in and commitment of the communities and Indigenous Peoples that live in the forest, and rely it on for their food, religious and cultural needs. Therefore, FSC certification also ensures communities are consulted and included in decision-making regarding the forest and are able to work in the concession in a safe environment, in accordance with principles developed by the International Labour Organization.

This means communities continue to enjoy many of the spiritual and cultural values of the forest, while gaining economic benefit from it. In addition, communities often receive other social benefits – such as medical and educational facilities – as part of the social obligations defined for FSC certified companies. These social benefits are negotiated as part of the certification process.

In this way, certification helps both the forest and its people, but this is not enough. The management of the forest would not be sustainable without also ensuring that the certified companies are making a profit from the forest. The third dimension of FSC as a tool against deforestation is ensuring there is economic benefit for forestry companies in managing their forest responsibly. To this end, FSC works with partners to create local and international market interest in the products of its certificate holders.

A 2014 study from CIFOR found that FSC certified concessions in the Congo basin provided more community benefits than non-certified concessions. They report better working conditions, improved quality of life for local communities, active local institutions, and enhanced benefit sharing.[1] Another study by the Wildlife Conservation Society in Gabon found that FSC certified concessions demonstrate improved wildlife management practices. Both are results that FSC takes great pride in.[2]

So, painting all products that originate from a tropical rainforest with a negative brush, is both factually wrong and counter-productive. Instead, creating a market for products from responsibly managed forests in regions like the Congo Basin ensures businesses continue to adhere to FSC’s management criteria; local communities and Indigenous Peoples continue to receive benefit from their forest while keeping it for generations to come, and the forest – and the species in it – will continue to be there forever.

FSC certification protects businesses and consumers alike against being involved in illegal logging or illegal timber trade. Through third party audits conducted by certification bodies, FSC certified companies are checked for their performance against very strict FSC rules.

Last year, the Gabonese government announced that by 2022, all timber operators holding concessions in the country must be FSC-certified. This is a bold and important step towards securing responsibly sourced and legal timber on the world market. Aware of the challenges that this poses to companies and FSC alike, our organization is already at work in Gabon to enable a feasible and efficient transition for timber operators in the country.

  1. Cerutti, P.O., Lescuyer, G., Tsanga, R., Kassa, S.N.,Mapangou, P.R., Mendoula, E.E., et al. (2014). Social impacts of the Forest Stewardship Council certification: An assessment in the Congo basin. doi:10.17528/cifor/004487