Is supervised and certified logging less evil than unmonitored intrusion into forests? A growing number of timber businesses is realising that it is good for business and maybe to some extent for forests.
Several forest certifying agencies exist at present. Soon, the government of India will start issuing certificates to companies that cut wood as their main business. The idea is to ensure good forest management to prevent harm to bio-rich parts of the logging area and get wood export orders from countries that reject wood from uncertified forest areas. India has no certified forest area.
Murugappa Group's New Ambadi Estates recently became the first Indian company to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certifying body started in 1993 after the UN environment summit in Rio. Murugappa got 644 hectares of plantation certified for being managed in a way to cause the least damage to environment. It is the first plantation in India to be certified.
Last week, ITC became the first applicant for a certification by another forest management certifying agency, the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN), part of the World Wide Fund for Nature. Only five other enterprises in India have registered with any certifying agency. About 30 more are expected to register in three years.
Last week, the Ministry of Environment and Forests began moving towards framing its own mechanism for forest certification by holding the first meeting of its forest certification committee.
According to ITC, which sources its timber from 90,000 hectares of plantations, the agreement with the GTFT will imply the latter's intervention to set up a mechanism in its plantations to minimise carbon footprints.
The certification comes at the end of a long process of tutoring and monitoring. The GFTN has companies like Wal-Mart as certified members that buy from similarly-certified buyers. We are trying to help them clean up their supply chain so that nothing is done to cause harm to the forest - from the point where wood is taken to where it is used - say its officials.
Certification is about finding ways to log and ensuring the least possible damage. In Brazil, for instance, companies agreed to keep 20 per cent of land in any area they worked as natural forests. The GFTN says they are advised to have a small timber business based on natural forests and a large pulp business based on plantations.
The next step for ITC after getting a certification would be to get an FSC approval and be in a position to compete with certified sellers from Brazil and Russia.
The GFTN would now map ITC's plantations, check for burial and religion sites, if any, and look for remnants of natural forests or habitats of some species that could be protected.
The trend is growing fast. While the FSC alone has certified 114 million hectares of forests so far, a country like China, which did not certify forests until three years back, now has three million hectares of forests certified by the GFTN.
Today, the 360-odd participants in the GFTN account for 16 per cent of the world trade in wood products. India has joined the club.