Exploring fair trade timber

Project
Archived
2007 – 2008

Fair trade has done much to help community enterprises – but mainly in agriculture, not forestry. It is now time to examine the demand and potential of a mechanism, such as fair trade, that can both empower and distinguish community forest products in the market place – opening up new market niches through which ethical consumers can channel their purchasing power.

Communities now own or manage one fourth of the forests in developing countries. Certification, eco-labelling and social auditing have all been set up to improve the forest sector. High hopes for forest livelihoods and poverty reduction have surrounded their use but each has had its limitations. Fair trade has done much to help community enterprises – but mainly in agriculture, not forestry. It is now time to examine the demand and potential of a mechanism, such as fair trade, that can both empower and distinguish community forest products in the market place – opening up new market niches through which ethical consumers can channel their purchasing power.

The aim of this project is to increase the returns to local communities from well managed forest production through demonstrating demand (or the lack of it) and developing options to distinguish and promote sustainable and fair community forest products in the market. The following steps will be taken towards achieving this:

  • assessment of the potential national demand for forest products originating from two communities in developing countries – with a primary focus on timber
  • assessment of the potential international demand for community forest products (whether FSC certified or not) and the major structural issues for community producers in developing countries
  • identification of particular products for which greatest potential exists – and an assessment of their market chains
  • analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints of moving towards a new system with/without collaboration between existing certification and fair trade institutions
  • analysis of benefits and risks – economic, social and environmental benefits – if such a pilot initiative should move ahead

Some of the key messages that have come out of the assessments and analysis include:

  • national and international market demand exists for community forest products

  • greatest potential and demand is likely for primary processed products (such as sawn timber) and some secondary processed products (such as shaped wood or wood based products)

  • one of the major challenges to moving forward is institutional capacity building – and ensuring that the necessary steps are taken to structure a viable businesses at the community level.

In light of these key findings, the Forest Stewardship Council and Fair trade Labelling Organisation International have agreed to move forward with a feasibility study to explore options for fair trade timber in more detail.

Publications

A cut above: building the market for fair trade timber, Duncan Macqueen (2008) IIED Briefing