Certifying the Harvest Developments in NTFP Certification

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     Certifying the Harvest: Developments in NTFP Certification

                                           Patrick Mallet1

I coordinate a Certification and Marketing            sustainability. It is about making guarantees
program for Falls Brook Centre, an environ-           that your operation is not harming the environ-
mental organization based in New Brunswick. I         ment, that it is fair to the workers, and that it
first got interested in certification issues during   is of benefit to the local community.
my work with an international agroforestry
network whose members wanted to highlight
the ecological practices inherent in their pro-                    WHAT’S IN A LABEL?
duction system. In my initial research, I found
that a number of different certification pro-         As I mentioned, there are a large number of
grams operating worldwide were interested in          different certification programs, each with its
incorporating agroforestry and non-timber             own logo and criteria for measurement. What
forest products (NTFPs) into their systems but        do they all mean? How is it possible to tell
that each was operating in isolation. Our             them apart? The first thing to look for in a
program is focused on increasing the collabora-       certification system is independent verification.
tion between these systems, providing informa-        Anyone can claim that they are meeting criteria
tion and resources to producer groups inter-          for sustainability, but third party assessment is
ested in applying for certification, and creating     a guarantee of this.
market links for certified products. The ulti-
mate aim of the program is to make certifica-         The next issue is whether the program is
tion more accessible for small producers of           certifying an operating system or management
agroforest and non-timber forest products.            practices. Operating system certifications
                                                      assess whether there is a management plan in
                                                      place, whether you are meeting the goals laid
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GET CERTIFIED?                   out in the plan, and whether there is a mecha-
                                                      nism for constant improvement. Management
Certification is a market-based tool. It provides     practice certification, on the other hand, is
a means to differentiate your product in the          more concerned with whether the production
marketplace and may also provide access to            or harvest meets specific performance stan-
new markets. Certification conveys a message          dards, thus providing a more objective mea-
to the consumer about your product, usually           surement of sustainable practices. It is these
having to do with the product itself or the           latter systems that we are primarily concerned
process by which it was grown or harvested.           with.
The message behind a certified product is that
it has been independently assessed to meet            The certification systems that are relevant to
standard criteria. Those criteria emphasize           NTFPs include sustainable forestry, organic
different aspects of the product, depending on        agriculture, and to a lesser extent, fairtrade.
the type of certification you are dealing with.       When we start to talk about agroforestry
But certification of forest products is more than     systems, many more certification programs
just satisfying criteria. It is also about            also come into play, some of which are shade-
                                                      grown, bird-friendly, and integrated pest
                                                      management. These are less relevant for

   Coordinator, Program on Certification and             CERTIFICATION SYSTEMS FOR NTFPS
Marketing of Agroforestry and Non-Timber
Forest Products, Falls Brook Centre, Box 1227,        In each of the three NTFP certification pro-
Kaslo, British Columbia, Canada, V0G 1M0;             grams that I mentioned, there is an interna-
Phone/Fax: 250-353-2034; e-mail:                      tional coordinating body. The first of these, the                                  Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), promotes
well-managed forests through the application of      though each system has its own criteria, there
criteria that address ecological, social, and        are a significant number of areas of overlap.
economic issues. The FSC is a relatively recent      Some examples of this include IFOAM’s recent
certification program that resulted from con-        definition of social standards and its initial
cern over the fate of the world’s forests, par-      movement towards organic forestry standards;
ticularly in the tropics. It incorporates good       FLO is currently developing more rigorous
coverage of many of the key issues and cur-          environmental standards to complement its
rently allows for the certification of NTFPs on a    social criteria; and members of FSC are trying
trial basis.                                         to get accredited certifiers to focus more
                                                     strongly on the social components required
The International Federation of Organic Agri-        under this system. It seems that the ultimate
culture Movements (IFOAM) is the equivalent          goal, and the direction in which most systems
world body for organic agriculture. It grew out      are moving, is to develop certification programs
of a global farmers’ movement and has become         that are more holistic and well-rounded—in
synonymous with the avoidance of chemicals in        other words, to move towards more sustainable
agriculture. IFOAM has criteria for wild-har-        production.
vested products as well as specific criteria for
some NTFPs like maple syrup and honey.
                                                         BREAKING NEW GROUND—RECENT
Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO) Inter-                  DEVELOPMENTS
national emphasizes the social components of
production, ensuring the well-being of the           This is where the exciting work is happening! A
producer. FLO developed out of the alternative       lot of the recent progress has been made within
trade movement, and it currently certifies a         the FSC, where most of the NTFP activity is
limited number of agroforestry products al-          focused. Currently, FSC-accredited certifiers
though its product range is increasing.              are able to certify NTFPs if the products meet
                                                     the basic Principles and Criteria of the FSC.
I am emphasizing these three international           The NTFP Working Group is looking to provide
bodies because they have each set generic            further guidance to certifiers in these NTFP
standards in their own field of expertise, they      assessments to ensure that the process for
play a coordinating role for organizations           certification is standardized. Members of the
working in their sector, and they each accredit      Working Group have been undertaking field
or coordinate certification organizations who do     trials to test and revise generic standards for
the actual assessments of the producer.              NTFPs. In the last year, assessments have
                                                     taken place for chicle, Brazil nut, palm heart,
                                                     and chestnut. One of these assessments, for
          MEETING THE CRITERIA                       chicle gum in Mexico, resulted in the first NTFP
                                                     certification under FSC.
These certification systems share three main
criteria components: ecological, socioeconomic,      The other major area of work has been the
and institutional. Some of the issues associated     collaboration between certification and accredi-
with ecological criteria are environmental           tation systems. Organizations are looking at
harvesting practices, conservation of                how they can work together better. This can
biodiversity, use of chemicals, and waste            happen at a variety of levels including the
management. Socioeconomic criteria address           harmonization of standards, joint field assess-
the well-being of the worker and the local           ments, and common promotion and marketing.
community, Indigenous people’s rights, and the       The most promising work has taken place in
overall viability of the operation. The institu-     the field assessments where certifiers from
tional issues that are of relevance in certifica-    organic agriculture, forestry, and fairtrade have
tion are the legality of an operation, its man-      come together to identify where they overlap
agement plan, and the monitoring of the imple-       and can support each other. The joint inspec-
mentation of that plan.                              tions could lead to common inspector training
                                                     workshops, joint questionnaires and reports,
Most programs include all three types of crite-      and even combining of assessment teams.
ria to a greater or lesser extent, but each places   These all result in reduced costs and time
an emphasis on its own areas of priority. Even       commitments for both producers and certifiers.

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         CHALLENGES FACING NTFP                      many NTFPs since they do not fit the tradi-
             CERTIFICATION                           tional forest harvest structure that FSC was set
                                                     up to deal with. FSC is probably most appropri-
Certification is not the answer for all situa-       ate for large industrial NTFP operations. Or-
tions; in fact, it has quite a limited applicabil-   ganic agriculture certification provides a good
ity. This is especially the case for NTFPs where     alternative and may be the best option for food
certification is relatively recent and has not       and medicinal products. It is not as compre-
undergone much testing in the field. Certifica-      hensive as FSC but is also less costly and has
tion must be seen as only one tool among many        good consumer recognition. This currently
to move towards more sustainable production          means a better guarantee of price premiums for
systems. It is good to remember that the major       certified products and access to more local
costs of getting certified are usually not the       markets. Finally, fairtrade should also be
costs of the certification process itself, but       considered although it is more of an option for
rather the costs of altering an operation to meet    southern producers. Advantages include its
certification criteria.                              concern primarily that producers receive a fair
                                                     deal and that the costs of certification are
Based on the information gathered during the         borne by the retailer and consumer rather than
recent FSC field trials, some of the key chal-       by the producer. However, the product scope
lenges to NTFP certification include the follow-     for fairtrade does not yet cover many NTFPs,
ing:                                                 and it has limited application in northern
    • A lack of ecological knowledge about           countries.
        individual species including baseline
        data, sustainable harvesting levels, and
        resiliency of the species.                            REALITY CHECK—WHEN IS
    • Impact on small producers and subsis-                   CERTIFICATION USEFUL?
        tence users including definition of
        tenure and access rights, high fixed         The recent field trials and collaborative activi-
        costs, and the impact of increased           ties have identified a number of factors in
        demand on subsistence use.                   determining when certification is applicable.
    • Market demands including the quality           Among the most common characteristics are
        of the product, limited market size, and     when it is seen as an addition to timber certifi-
        uncompetitive prices versus alterna-         cation or where there is a large-scale, organized
        tives.                                       operation in existence. Examples of this in-
    • Inexperience in certification including        clude maple syrup, Brazil nuts, rattan, and
        lack of certifiers with NTFP experience,     rubber. Certification is also useful where there
        lack of standard policies, and difficul-     is an international market or large national
        ties integrating timber and non-timber       market. It is not often required to satisfy the
        products.                                    needs of a local market. Organic certification is
                                                     probably the best bet for small-scale opera-
                                                     tions, but it is still necessary to prove tenure
  WHICH SYSTEM IS RIGHT FOR NTFPS?                   rights, which is often difficult on crown land.
                                                     From a market perspective, certification must
While all certification programs are set up to       be seen as part of an overall sales package.
deal with a wide variety of situations, each is
geared to work better under specific circum-         While getting certified may have limited appli-
stances. The key thing to remember when              cation in most cases, the real added value lies
considering certification is that not pursuing       in the producer’s ability to apply the principles
certification may sometimes be the best option.      of sustainable management inherent in certifi-
Some further information will provide guidance       cation criteria. These principles are valuable to
on this issue.                                       all operations, whether or not the producer is
                                                     seeking certification. In this way, certification
Forestry certification under FSC has the most        can be used by all producers as a tool for better
well-rounded criteria and is the most natural        management. Criteria have been developed by
choice for NTFPs since we are talking about          experts in their fields and represent some of
well-managed forests, but at the same time it is     the best knowledge we have about sustainable
the most expensive and time consuming. In            production. Even the recent field tests of draft
addition, it is difficult to apply this system to    criteria have increased the knowledge available
on best management practices for a number of        loosely regulated, with 47 different certification
NTFPs. I would suggest that more test cases         organizations in operation across the country.
are needed to refine this knowledge for NTFPs       A national standard in organic agriculture
and to make it more accessible.                     recently came into effect that will help to
                                                    standardize criteria between certifiers, al-
                                                    though its application is still voluntary at this
BRINGING IT HOME—NTFP CERTIFICATION                 stage. In addition to concerns about variances
              IN CANADA                             between the certification programs themselves,
                                                    producers also have to take into account
Although a lot of work has been done on certifi-    national and provincial regulations. Each
cation worldwide over the last few years, it is     province has its own regulations and tenure
still a very new concept in Canada. Forest          system that producers are required to conform
certification is only just beginning to be taken    with.
seriously in Canada. Market pressure from
Europe is slowly forcing timber companies to
change their management practices to meet            FALLS BROOK CENTRE—CERTIFICATION
certification requirements. Organic certification         AND MARKETING PROGRAM
has been around much longer and is increas-
ing its market share in Canada but is not yet in    The program that I am coordinating has been
the mainstream for agriculture producers or         working with certifiers to address some of the
those working with NTFPs. Certification is not      constraints that I have talked about today. We
yet an issue for NTFP producers and harvesters      are trying to make NTFP certification more
in Canada.                                          accessible to producers. We are now beginning
                                                    to focus more on developing information tools
Through the FSC, three regional initiatives in      and resources for producer groups as well as
Canada are each developing regional stan-           on raising market awareness for certified
dards. These local standards will be used by        products. We will be talking to producers about
certifiers when assessing operations in those       the types of information that they require and
regions. Only a few forests are currently certi-    will be building a database of local market links
fied to carry the FSC logo in Canada and no         for certified products. If you are interested in
NTFPs are certified. Organic agriculture certifi-   learning more about certification or working
cation, on the other hand, has been operating       towards certification for your agroforestry and
in Canada for many years but is still only          non-timber forest products, please feel free to
                                                    contact me at <>.


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