New Delhi, March 23: A consortium of industry and government experts has launched an agency to grant domestic certification of forests that will help forest products from India bound for export markets earn stamps of sustainability.
The Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF) will pencil India-specific standards for assessment and certification to help forest products - from wooden handicrafts to furniture to paper - carry tags signalling responsible forestry, industry officials said.
"Importers across Europe and North America are increasingly insisting on products that come from certified forests," said Manu Jose Mattam, director of the natural resources division of the Scientific Certification Systems India, a private entity that is already certifying forests in India using a set of standards developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international agency based in Germany.
About 815,000 hectares of forests in Andhra, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu have already been certified under the FSC standards, Mattam said. "But we need our own standards to cover the diversity and unique nature of India's forests."
The Union environment and forest ministry's 2013 assessment estimated that India has a forest and tree cover of about 78 million hectares, covering about 24 per cent of the nation's geographical area. But experts estimate that only about 10 million hectares of India's forests are amenable to certification process with the rest of the forestland not exploited because it is protected or where commercial exploitation is unviable.
"We will develop standards that take into account the diversity of our forests and the connections they have with people," said K.K. Singh, chairman of the NCCF whose governing body has representatives of the forest products industry, the ministries of environment and forests and the development of the northeastern region.
The standards will assess forests through multiple prisms - environmental, economic and social," said Mattam, whose agency will audit Indian forests using the NCCF standards. "We'll look at environmental impacts, long-term sustainability of activities, and whether the legal rights of forest-dwellers are protected and they get the benefits of their produce."
The certification process will cover all timber, bamboo and rubber plantations. India is a net importer of timber, but exports a range of forest products, including handicrafts, furniture and paper and other forest-derived printing materials.
The planned NCCF standards are expected to be endorsed by an international non-profit forest certification agency called PEFC International. "We believe a future PEFC-endorsed Indian forest certification system will have a positive impact on forest management," Sarah Price, head of projects at PEFC International, said in a media release.
The US, the European Union and Australia have passed laws that impose restrictions on the import of forest products that are not sourced from certified forests.
Figures collected by the Calcutta-based Forest Products Export Council suggest that the exports of non-timber forest products have declined over the past two years - from $1.3 billion in 2012-13 to $1.1 billion in 2013-14 to $849 million during 2014-15.