1. Introduction

The African Forest Forum (AFF) in partnership with the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are organizing a short training course on forest certification for West and Central Africa sub-regions from 20 to 24 June 2016 in Accra, Ghana. The training course is being organised within the framework of a project implemented by AFF entitled “Strengthening Sustainable Forest Management in Africa”. One of the objectives of the project is to strengthen national capacities for forest certification for African countries, which in the case of this workshop are countries in West and Central Africa.

Capacity building in forest certification aims to contribute to the development of strategic human capacity in African institutions to drive the forestry agenda at national and regional levels towards sustainable forest management (SFM) and forest compatible development. Forest certification (FC) is the process of inspecting particular forests or woodlands to ensure that they are being managed according to an agreed set of standards. A forest is certified once it has met the set standards. It is a soft policy instrument that seeks to use assessments of forest management in relation to a set of predetermined principles and criteria as well as indicators and their means of verification. In particular, FC offers a management framework that provides for ecological sustainability, economic viability and social inclusion simultaneously. Consequently, FC offers the opportunity to harness market forces, public opinion and civil society in support of SFM. The increasing demand by consumer countries for forest products that are derived from responsibly managed forests means that increased focus on FC will enhance access to international markets and increased national revenues.

Studies by AFF reveal that Africa is yet to benefit from FC attributed to insufficient attention by stakeholders.  At best FC efforts on the continent can be characterized as scattered and uncoordinated. Out of all the forests certified globally Africa accounts for about 4% and only in ten countries. A number of factors constrain the successful implementation of FC in Africa, namely, inadequate or lack of enabling conditions and policy/legislation environment as well as numerous capacity gaps. Capacity gaps identified include human, financial and physical resources, and technical capability/skills, among others. To this end the AFF  in partnership with FORIG and ECOWAS are organising a training course on FC as an important component of a capacity building program for the development of  Africa’s forest sector.

2. Background

Forest certification is an established soft policy tool intended to incentivize marketing and utilisation of products from sustainably managed forests. It essentially introduces policy changes through commercial rather than central or local power and uses market acceptance rather than regulatory compliance as an enforcement mechanism. Since the 1990s, FC has evolved as a promising market-based tool for promoting responsible forest management by providing market incentives to producers of timber and non-timber products from well-managed forests, it is one of the possible approaches to improve forest governance. FC, therefore, holds the potential to address increased deforestation, illegal logging and trade in forest products, and tax evasion in the forest sector that continue to persist in West and Central Africa due to ineffective SFM practices.

The potential contribution and benefits of certification

Forest certification offers multiple economic, environmental and social benefits and opportunities that Africa stands to achieve through its increased implementation. These include:  greater access to premium timber markets; economic benefits for local communities; higher recovery of national revenues where payment of forest taxes are being avoided; conservation, maintenance and enhancement of High Conservation Value Forests; great potential to promote payments for ecosystem/environmental services; protection of rare, threatened or endangered species and/or their habitat; improved health, safety, rights and living conditions of employees in forest companies and their families; more inclusive and better governed institutions for negotiations between the local population and logging companies; bringing together industry, the environmental community and local communities in an unprecedented way; and promotion of  responsible forest management, more generally, through dialogue between the private sector, government bodies, non-governmental organizations and civil society. FC, therefore, makes significant contribution to raising awareness on the value for responsible use and management of forests.

Status of forest certification in West and Central Africa

Within Africa, FC is most advanced in West and Central Africa. Nevertheless while a number of countries have developed national FC standards in the subregions, only a few countries have forests that are certified. Recent analyses of FC practices and schemes in West and Central Africa undertaken by AFF revealed that the pace of implementation of FC is slow and variable depending on the country despite existing forest or environmental laws favorable to FC. The sub-regions have a long way to go if the stakeholders engaged along the value chain in the forest sector are going to benefit from FC. This is partly due to limited understanding of FC concepts, principles, tools and processes. Furthermore, there are currently very few local experts with FC skills, no locally-based FC auditors, no certification bodies and insufficient financial support for FC in the sub-regions; all of which combine to constrain the implementation of FC.

3. The goal of the training course

It is within this context that the African Forest Forum (AFF), FORIG and ECOWAS are organizing a short training course on FC targeting forestry practitioners in government organisations, academic and research institutions, civil society organisations and the private sector in West and Central Africa sub-regions. The course aims to enhance national capacities on understanding and implementation of FC with the view to strengthen their capacity for effective promotion and implementation of SFM.

4. The course objectives

The overall objective of the training course is to equip forestry practitioners with the necessary knowledge, tools and skills on FC, including development of FC standards. The course will also enhance better understanding, advocacy and increased implementation of FC in order to, ultimately, achieve SFM.

The specific objectives are:

sensitise forest practitioners on the concept of FC, and its potential role in improving forest management and forest governance,
build the capacity of forest practitioners on the concept, principles, and implementation of FC,  FC schemes and their requirements, including Chain of Custody (CoC) certification; and
equip forest practitioners with knowledge, tools and skills required for the development of national FC standards (NFCS) that are best suited for countries in West and Central Africa.

5. Expected results and outcomes

Increased understanding of the importance of FC in SFM and forest governance among forestry practitioners, and
Forestry practitioners are equipped with the knowledge, tools, skills and ability for the development of NFCS that are best suited for the West and Central African countries.

6. The course participants

The workshop will bring together nominated African forestry practitioners including government officials, forest managers, representatives of research and academic institutions, civil society organisations and the private sector involved in primary and secondary forest production and trade in forest products.

7. Venue

The training course will be held in Accra, Ghana.  For further information on the training course, contact:

1. Africa Forest Forum

Dr. Doris Mutta

Senior Programme Officer

African Forest Forum

Email: d.mutta@cgiar.org  

2. Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG)

Mrs. Margaret Sraku-Lartey
Head of Information, Forestry Research Institute of Ghana

Email:  msrakulartey@gmail.com