Innovation blossoms in the heart of Africa as the Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™) continues to lead the charge for responsible forest management globally. Established over three decades ago to combat global deforestation, degradation, and unsustainable forest management practices, FSC’s mission continues to address the unique challenges and opportunities within Africa’s diverse forest landscapes.

This year’s International Day of Forests theme, “Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World,” resonates deeply with FSC. Nana Darko, FSC Africa Certification Manager and William Lawyer, Policy Manager, Africa, in this opinion piece, highlight innovation as the cornerstone of FSC’s approach.

Addressing critical needs

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Africa loses nearly 4 million hectares of forests each year. But to address this challenge and the myriad of forest issues facing the continent, traditional government-led efforts are far from sufficient. The emergence of FSC as a market-based, voluntary instrument, was a welcome innovative tool to address this challenge and accelerate the transition towards responsible forest management.

Embracing challenges and opportunities

FSC’s dedication to innovation infuses its entire system, from crafting rigorous standards to ensuring their effective implementation. This relentless drive for improvement keeps FSC relevant in a rapidly changing landscape, proactively addressing emerging challenges in responsible forest management.

Despite limitations that hamper widespread forest protection across Africa’s massive 637 million hectares, government commitment to FSC principles is essential. Countries like Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and Uganda exemplify the power of this commitment. Their recognition of FSC has demonstrably spurred sustainable practices, strengthening forest management and nature protection.

FSC certified project, Republic of Congo

Becoming a better leader in forest stewardship

Close to three decades of experience in Africa have equipped FSC to become a leader in sustainable forestry. This translates into a continuously evolving system, with continually refined standards and processes. This unwavering commitment to learning allows FSC to adapt seamlessly to a dynamic environmental and social landscape.

FSC’s success is further underscored by its proven track- record, certifying over 160 million hectares of forest globally, of which nearly 10 million hectares in Africa alone.

Adapting to change

FSC actively aligns its Principles and Criteria (P&C) with the latest advancements in forest management to reflect stakeholder consensus and concerns. Incorporation of aspects such as Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) and Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) exemplifies this dedication to staying relevant and sensitive to changing stakeholder perceptions.

In 2021, FSC introduced new guidelines to ensure a participatory and equitable approach to decision-making through FPIC. This strengthens stakeholder involvement and reaffirms FSC’s commitment to sustainable forest management.

The launch of the FSC Indigenous Foundation in 2016 further solidifies this commitment. This independent organization fosters collaboration between Indigenous movements and diverse partners, actively promoting the rights and self-development of Indigenous communities across Africa.

Recognizing the vital role of IFLs, FSC will be launching pilot projects in the Congo Basin this year. These projects aim to solidify IFL conservation efforts.

Sustainable plantation forestry: innovation key to protecting natural forests

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) promotes responsible plantation management to protect natural forests. While plantations can’t fully replicate the intricate ecosystems of natural forests, FSC certification ensures they are managed with environmental and social responsibility at the forefront.

FSC takes a firm stance against deforestation. Plantations established by replacing natural forests after 1994 are ineligible for certification. However, for plantations established on converted land between 1994 and 2020, FSC certification is possible, but only after demonstrably repairing any social and environmental damage caused by the conversion.

South Africa exemplifies responsible plantation management. With 80% of commercial plantations FSC-certified, these producers actively collaborate on biodiversity initiatives with WWF South Africa. Sappi, a leading forestry company, showcases this commitment through their Forestry Research Centre, developing climate-resilient and pest-resistant seedlings. These actions prove that responsible plantations can harmonize with environmental goals.

Sappi Clan Nursery, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Concrete innovations

FSC’s dedication to innovation yields a bountiful harvest:

• Accessibility for All: FSC tackles the limitations of cost and complexity through the SLIMF (Small and Low-Intensity Managed Forests) and the CIP (Continuous Improvement Procedure). These initiatives provide tailored requirements, making certification accessible to smaller producers.

• Enhanced standards: From ensuring traceability through newly developed blockchain technology to incorporating Intact Forest Landscape (IFL) protection within standards, FSC continuously improves its practices.

• Holistic forest management and adding value to forest: The Ecosystem Services Procedure fosters a more comprehensive approach to verified impacts associated with sustainable forest management. It allows forest managers to add more value to the forest they are managing via a range of services.

Editors: Israel Bionyi, FSC Africa Communication Manager and Gerard Busse, Marketing and Communication Manager, FSC Southern Africa.