By: Petra Postolache
As the world’s attention has been directed towards COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, we are using this opportunity to reflect upon Global Timber’s own impact in the world. Our goal is to go beyond compliance and assume a more active role in protection of the forests and reducing carbon emissions.
This month we have a guest interviewee who brings another perspective on forestry. Krishnanunni Mavinkal Ravindran has a master in Sustainable Tropical Forestry from Copenhagen University and has joined our team as a freelance consultant. His research area revolves around sustainable livelihoods, tree-based landscape restoration, and hardwood supply chain. He is originally from India and has studied both in UK, Denmark, and Ghana.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for the existence and thriving of tropical forests?
Tropical forests are home to 80% of the total species on earth and cover 11% of its land area. However, these forests are now shrinking at an alarming rate. Agricultural expansion and over-exploitation of forests for forest products are the main reasons for this loss.
Wood is so close to mankind that we can’t imagine a life without it. The global demand for industrial wood in the last six decades has increased by more than 800 million m3. This ever-increasing demand for wood has seen people cutting down forests beyond its capacity to regrow. Tropical forests are resourceful to meet the world’s wood demand but overexploiting them without respecting their natural regenerating capacity would deplete the forests, which would leave both people and many industries in crisis. However, through sustainable forest management, it is possible to strike a balance between our forest use and its protection.
What is the impact of logging on the livelihoods of local populations?
Logging has many positive as well as negative impacts on the livelihoods of people associated with it. Unsustainable logging can be seen as destructive to the local population. It could deprive the locals’ rights to access forests for their basic needs and reduce the availability of some of the commonly used forest products. Also, illegal logging could later pave the way for forest invasion and other destructive land uses.
On a positive note, studies show that tropical forests form an important source of revenue and livelihoods for over 1.35 billion forest-dependent people around the globe. Sustainable logging operations would bring extra sources of revenue into local communities, create jobs, reduce inequalities, and empower them in many ways. It will also create a feeling of belongingness and encourage them to utilize the forests sustainably.
What changes did the COVID pandemic bring to the forestry sector?
With the pandemic disrupting the forest-related supply chains, there has been a sharp decline in timber imports and exports across the globe. As orders keep cancelling and postponing, many traders are not able to operate at their full capacity.
Also, the restrictions and curbs imposed to thwart the spread of COVID have impacted sustainable forest management in many ways. National forest institutions in Africa are struggling to maintain their staff due to a lack of funds. As a result, forest monitoring is affected in many places, paving the way for illegal timber and non-timber forest products extraction. Also, Covid has ceased many forest operations, which has left many people jobless. Many indigenous communities are retreating deeper into the forests for food, fuel, and shelter to safeguard themselves from the risks of COVID. There is a risk of increasing forest invasion and illegal cutting of trees that threatens the very survival of both the communities and the forests.
You have travelled in Africa and Asia; how would you describe the potential timber sector has to play in the life of local populations?
As a forest researcher, I can confidently say that the timber sector supports the local population in many ways. From state-managed to community-managed forests, I have seen how the timber sector engages the local population in their operations. It provides employment to people in the communities near the forests and drives many local industries. Furthermore, in state and communities managed forests, private companies initiate also development projects for the local population. These projects, sometimes part of their CSR initiatives, contribute to the overall development of the population, while also making them aware of the need to protect the forests for the future.
Intended to secure and sustain our forests, the international and national timber regulations have also added the responsibilities of the timber industries in order protect the forests. These regulations contain a social component that prescribes the timber sector to protect the livelihoods of the local populations. Furthermore, through forest certifications and taxations, the timber sector contributes significantly to rural development and its populace. Now with the EU putting forth the idea of ‘deforestation-free commodities’, the timber sector has an added responsibility to engage the local population in their efforts to manage the forests sustainably. This would, of course, bring more employment and other benefits to the forest-dependent communities.
In line with the opinions expressed above, we also think it is important to keep using sustainable tropical timber, as it is an important tool for development in the tropics. In the last 10 years, there has been an ongoing debate about the role of tropical timber in Europe. So far, the general agreement is that increasing the value of standing forests for the local population is a win-win solution, that conserves the forests and adds to the quality of life in producing countries. At Global Timber, we make our best to select the right sawmills, that do business in a responsible manner, while we also support and prioritize certified material. In this way, we strive to impact the local community and forestry in a sustainable and positive way to keep their forests healthy, which enables us to provide the global market with “green” building materials.