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Why do we have to buy certified tropical wood? – Jeanicolau de Lacerda 

Why do we have to buy certified tropical wood?

Photo: Coalizão Brasil

The wood market worldwide, considering logs, sawn timber, veneer, pulp and paper, tissue, charcoal etc., results in about US$ 360 billion/year. 15% of it comes from sawn timber and logs produced from natural tropical forests, as reported by IUFRO.

However, the compliance with the official process of the chain of custody is not always given. Political and cultural issues make the illegal wood trading possible.

IUFRO and INTERPOL say it is very likely that 42% of all tropical wood negotiated “has high probability to have some kind of illegality”1 along its chain of custody. But Brazilian estimates (made by BVRio) that this percentage is much higher than that and reaches up to 80%.

It’s important to emphasize that “illegality” in the wood commerce is something very difficult to be fight against, especially in the international negotiations, because the “illegality concept” is a juridical definition that differs from country to country due to political, cultural, environmental and commercial issues.

So one could ask: Does the tropical wood consumption induce deforestation?
The answer is no if you buy timber produced in sustainable managed forest. We know that tropical forest properly sustainably managed is much more protected and preserved than some public reserves or sites considered isolated.

So, in other words we are confirming that the best way to protect the forest is to make it productive. It is possible and it’s been done by many tropical forest management projects certified by third parties, such as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). But non-sustainably managed forests induce deforestation and therefore it is very important to buy tropical timber just from certified companies.

But many wood consumers say that they don’t buy certified timber due to the high cost compared to non-certified timber. These consumers are not aware how the illegal wood is produced because they don’t know that the illegal wood has a huge negative impact on environment. They don’t know that the illegal wood producers don’t respect environmental laws and therefore don’t protect the forest. In many cases they don’t pay taxes and don’t spend money with worker’s rights, etc. So, it is not true that the certified timber is more expensive than the illegal wood.

As an amazing example of how difficult it is to compete with the illegal wood market we have the Precious Woods case in the Brazilian wood market. Precious Woods is a group benchmark of Certified Tropical Forest Management working in Brazil and in Gabon. The group has about 6% to 7% of worldwide certified tropical forest of the FSC certified managed tropical forests. In Brazil PW produces about 120.000 cubic meters per year but less than 3% of that wood is commercialized in the country, due to the illegal market competition.

In Brazil, IBAMA (Brazilian Environment Institute) has been working hard in order to revert this scenario, but we need much more than governmental “control and command” actions in order to fight such a powerful and attractive market, as the tropical wood illegal market. We also need actions focused in deep cultural changes, because if the consumers don’t link their responsibility during the “buying act” to the deforestation, the illegal commerce will remain active.

The consumers have to know that they not only have the power to change the deforestation scenario, but they could also be indirectly responsible for the deforestation process.

Probably everybody knows the results of the Illegal wood production in the forest landscape. The image of a deforested forest speaks by itself. But the consequences to the people that live in the forest is not so well known.

In order to show how degrading the illegal wood chain of custody to the wood workers is, IUFRO says that in Indonesia a lumberjack receives US$2,2 per cubic meter of logs of illegal wood removed from the forest. The local buyer receives US$20,00 per the same cubic meter, the illegal exporter receives US$120,00, the “heater” of the illegal wood (the person or group that create false documents to allow the commercialization of the illegal wood) receives US$700,00 per cubic meter and, the final seller, US$1000 per cubic meter.

This example makes it clear that the most important item in the illegal wood pricing is the “heating”, so in consequence of it, the government and the workers receive almost nothing in the illegal chain.

So, how can we solve it? It could be as simple if the consumers could “help” to fight the illegal market by consuming only wood whose origin and production they know, if the process respects the environment, workers’ rights and all the countries laws. In other words, the consumer can fight the illegal wood commerce buying certified timber only. The responsibility to protect the biodiversity, engagement with communities and workers and the fight against deforestation has to be taken by everybody.

The big market players and the Government should promote an environmental and social awareness by the wood consumers. They could involve them as partners in this fight. By doing that, the industry would be stronger and more effective in protecting our forests.

JEANICOLAU SIMONE DE LACERDA participates in the Working Group of Tropical Forest Economy of Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture.

1As IUFRO’s definition

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