WASHINGTON (Landscapes News) – When establishing environmentally and socially responsible forestry projects in new areas, taking time to listen to the locals and understand the context really pays off, said Paula Guimarães at a discussion forum about how the public sector can support private sector investments in sustainable and productive landscapes, at the recent Global Landscapes Forum Investment Case Symposium in Washington.
Guimarães is head of Forest Certification and Conservation for The Navigator Company, a Portugal-based integrated forestry, pulp and paper company with a global reach, and a reputation for “innovation and sustainability in the way that we use natural resources, and also in the ways we aim to improve people’s lives.”
MAKING CERTIFICATION COUNT
The Navigator Company began its operations in Portugal, supplying FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certifications) certified wood, pulp and paper for the local and international market.
Alongside its own plantations, it relies on wood from a network of private forest owners. But finding certified suppliers was initially challenging. In Portugal, there are over 400,000 small forest owners, most of whom manage very small areas – less than 3 hectares each. Their margins are small, their time is precious, and these kinds of schemes can seem too complex and expensive to bother about.
So, Guimarães and her team at The Navigator Company decided to step in to improve forest management and build its certified supply. They began paying a per-meter premium to suppliers of FSC-certified wood.
This covers the cost of certification for smallholders and provides a tangible financial benefit: a forest owner with three hectares of forest who delivers 430 cubic meters of wood can receive a total price premium of more than €1,700 (US $1,985), after a rotation period of 12 years.
“With this premium, the small producers feel that effort pays and that it’s worthwhile to certify – both the producers and the environment end up winning!” said José Francisco Silva, forest producer and vice-president of the Forestry Association of Baixo Vouga.
The company has also helped facilitate the certification process for smallholders by simplifying it, and sharing knowledge and experience through trainings and demonstrations, as well as an open-access publications.
As a result, the program has improved incomes and market access for a growing number of producers across the country, who are in turn reducing their environmental impact and risk of forest fire. Meanwhile, the company can ensure a sustainable supply of certified wood to meet its customers’ and shareholders’ expectations, and fulfill environmental and social commitments. The initiative has proved so successful that its policies have been adopted across Portugal and into parts of Spain, and even imitated by the company’s competitors.
A NEW FRONTIER
Buoyed by its local and regional success, in 2009 The Navigator Company established a program in Mozambique.
“Our idea was to take to Mozambique what we already do in Portugal,” said Guimarães. The company was granted a vast area in two of Mozambique’s provinces, Manica and Zambezia, totalling 356,000 hectares.
But in this extremely different context, it was necessary to step back and go slowly, she said. Before planting a single tree, the team spent several years doing environmental and social assessments, and working out the best ways to interface with local communities and households.
Since 2015, they’ve run a community development program which builds local capacity for involvement in the project, through training in a range of areas such as conservation, sustainable agriculture and health and safety practices. The company has also recently initiated out grower schemes on similar principles to those in their Portuguese project.
A key part of this process was getting to grips with customary land tenure in the area. “It’s not a concession area in a typical way,” Guimarães explained. “We were given the right to access and use it, but there are people inside. So we have to talk to people to really have access to land and to do our job.”
Some might argue that this kind of work is beyond a company’s mandate. But if you’re taking a landscape approach and trying to have a positive, restorative impact in the area in which you’re working, it’s a necessary component, said Guimarães. “You have to zoom out and look beyond what would be the natural boundaries of what your project is,” she stated.
“Landscapes are also about people, so we need people to be involved, and to value what the land can give them,” she said. “And sometimes they have a very short-term perception of what the resources are, and then the practices that they put in place are not the best. So it’s also about changing this perception, together.”