About 80% of forestry land is managed following globally-recognised best practices for forest management (certified under the Forest Stewardship Council; FSC). FSC certification is an international forestry certification systems developed in the early 1990’s. Certification involves the enforcement of a standard of sustainable forestry management with regular audits, which then allows products to bear the FSC logo. It is considered a powerful incentive for forestry companies to adopt sustainable production practices and good biodiversity management.

For a long time South Africa was using the generic international standard for certification, as an appropriate national standard (as allowed for under the FSC system) had not been developed. The international standard focuses strongly on conservation of natural forests and is not entirely appropriate for plantations in the grasslands. The development of National FSC Standards presented an opportunity for the biodiversity sector, coordinated through the Grasslands Programme, to integrate biodiversity objectives the Standards. This biodiversity mainstreaming moment, enabled by strong coordination capacity and working with the plantation forestry sector ensured that appropriate indicators for the management of grasslands were included within the new national standard. Through the coordination capacity of the Grasslands Programme, the forestry coordinator was also part of an international expert panel that convened to review the global FSC Principles and Criteria and was able to ensure that this work was appropriate to the Grasslands Biome.

The FSC Principles and Criteria contain a myriad checks and balances in order to ensure that plantation operations comply with globally held values of sustainable or responsible forestry. For small-growers on communal land however, compliance with 269 indicators is often an impossibility for a host of reasons, many (or even most) of which are outside of the control of the community. As a result they are unable to get their plantation operations certified, and their timber is barred from premium markets. Since small growers with plantations of less than 1 000 ha make up a significant and expanding part of South Africa’s forestry sector, and have very real implications for livelihoods, this is an increasingly important issue. Certification systems that are appropriate for small growers operations, particularly on communal land, is important from the perspective of both enabling access to markets (socially and economically sustainable operations) and improving management of small grower plantations (environmentally sustainable with benefits in terms of mitigating impacts on biodiversity and water-related services).

An objective of the forestry component of the SANBI Grasslands Programme was therefore to explore forest certification that was appropriate for small-scale timber growers and pilot relevant projects.  The forestry coordinator led a panel to give advice on an FSC SLIMF (Small Low Intensity Managed forests) standard, which was submitted to the FSC for approval in 2014, and tested the draft SLIMF standard in various community based pilot projects. There is some opinion that despite continued effort in this regard, FSC certification may never be appropriate for small-scale timber growers and that alternative certification systems might have to be considered.

Take a look at some of the pilot projects implemented through the Grasslands Programme.