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Getting to the pith of wood sourcing

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Global Forest and Trade Network is expanding, writes R. RAMABHADRAN PILLAI

The construction sector depends largely on natural wood for use in buildings despite the arrival of several alternatives. An abominable practice however of wood sourcing is illegal felling of trees in the forests, worsening environmental degradation.

A global network known as the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN), under the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) umbrella, is in the process of coordinating the activities of various agencies to ensure a transparent and eco-sensitive way of wood procurement and trade.

The GFTN, launched in India three years ago, is expanding its footprint to various States., including Kerala.

The programme is being implemented in India by WWF India, in association with various organisations and institutions such as Jadavpur University, the Malabar Chamber of Commerce, and the Jodhpur Handicrafts Exporters Association.

One of the key elements of the GFTN programme is to certify wood procured from sustainable sources. “Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often buy wood that has been sourced unsustainably, possibly illegally,” says

T.R. Manoharan, Head-Forest Programme, GFTN-India. “Unsustainable development and related forest degradation in Asia result in increased flooding, mudslides, and wildfire.”

One of the significant problems arising out of continued degradation of forests is marginalisation of vulnerable groups, especially those who depend on forest resources for survival.

To ensure a sustained economic growth, pressure on natural resources such as forests must be reduced, he says. Sustainable wood processing and trade under the Switch-Asia Project of the agency targets at least 600 SMEs in the wood-processing sectors of China, India, and Vietnam, helping them adopt production techniques and provide certified sustainable forest produce to national and international markets.

The project envisages linking of processors to build their capacity for responsible sourcing and production of forest produce.

Linking

It links the units with buyers and forest managers who are parts of the network across the world.

The project, which has European Commission support, focusses on the States of Kerala, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

Responsible wood sourcing pertains to use of wood from well-managed forests or from recycled products, thus discouraging suppliers using wood from unknown and illegal sources.

Responsible purchasing is a means by which a company can distance itself from the problems of illegal logging and forest destruction, while helping to create a forest produce industry that helps conserve valuable forests, respects the interests of local communities and workers and does not run down its resource base, say the proponents of the GFTN.

“Forest certification in India is still at a growing stage,” Mr. Manoharan says. A 644-hectare rubber plantation of New Ambadi Estates Private Ltd. in Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu has already been certified.

Another private farm forest area at Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh is undergoing the certification process, he says. Sustainable practices have a major role in the green building concept, which has gained considerable space in the Indian construction scene.

Certification process for wood assumes significance in this connection, he says.

A Kochi-based SME, Atheena Exports, which manufactures and exports wooden parts of musical instruments, floor tiles, and veneers, has joined the network.

Atheena has the distinction of becoming the first company certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, Shaji, who heads it, says. Atheena exports wooden parts to guitar-manufacturing units world over, especially to the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the Far East, where Indian rosewood is in high demand.

Forest certification

Forest certification refers to two separate processes — forest management unit (FMU) certification and chain of custody (COC) certification. FMU certification is a process which verifies that an area of forest plantations from where wood, fibre, and other non-timber produce are extracted is managed to a defined standard. COC certification is a process of tracking forest produce from the certified forest to the point of sale to ensure that the produce originated from a certified forest. Forest certification is bound to generate more interest among the stakeholders in the coming years, Renjan Mathew Varghese, Director of the Kerala unit of WWF India, says.

“The European ratings for energy consumption have been accepted by Indian manufacturers who are adopting measures to display the ratings on electrical gadgets in a big way. The wood-based industry will eventually adopt a similar attitude,” he says.

“The certified rubber estate in Tamil Nadu has been receiving a lot of overseas orders even for waste products. The company has benefited immensely as the profit margin for the certified produce is also high.”

A team from Vietnam recently visited the wood-based industry in Kozhikkode as part of the GFTN.

The government is in the process of taking some measures in tandem with the sustainable initiative of the world body, say representatives of the GFTN.

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