Scott Poynton, Executive Director of Tropical Forest Trust responded yesterday to my article in last month’s WRM Bulletin about the certification of logging in Laos.
This is the third public response, after FSC’s response and SmartWood’s response. In his response Scott accuses WRM of publishing an article which “seriously risks the livelihoods of the very people they claim to support without any deeper effort to verify what is really happening on the ground.”
Scott perceptively points out that “This article’s target wasn’t Lao village forestry; it was the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).”
My article was based on a leaked SUFORD report – the World Bank, Finnish government Sustainable Forestry and Rural Development project which is supporting village forestry in Laos. The report is based on a consultant’s visit to Savannahkhet province. The report clearly exposes the weaknesses with SmartWood’s assessment. (Incidentally, I referred to the SUFORD report as a leaked report in my article not because it’s a “sexy sound bite” as Scott suggests, but because it was leaked. It arrived anonymously, attached to an email with the subject line “logging in Laos – leaked document”. The report is not available on any project-related websites or the World Bank’s website.)
In another comment, Scott suggests that I’m distorting the historical timeline to strengthen my argument. I’m not. Here is the relevant part of the timeline:
- 24 January 2006 – SmartWood issued a certificate for 39,007 hectares in Savannahkhet province. They issued a long series of corrective action requests, one of which states: “By the end of Year 1, all logs must contain clear and lasting marks (e.g. paint or chops) to identify the village, strip, and log number.” The only possible reason for this request is that the logs were not being properly marked when the certificate was issued.
- May 2006 – World Bank SUFORD report published, based on fieldwork from 14 May to 22 May.
The SUFORD report, which Scott describes as an “excellent and constructive assessment”, found the following:
1. Trees and logs in all inspected locations [forest, landing, mill] were not marked as per requirement. Tracing of trees/logs is therefore impossible.
1. In all PFA [production forest area] – and in logging operations related to infrastructure projects or the like – proper marking should be implemented.
2. Logs which are not marked as per requirements should (in line with the Forestry Law article 26) not be permitted to be moved.
1. Only with consistent and accurate marking of trees and logs can legality of logs be verified and COC [chain of custody] proven.”
The SUFORD report states that logs coming from the logging operations should not be permitted to be moved – otherwise they would be in breach of the Forestry Law. SUFORD’s consultant later finds unmarked and incorrectly marked logs in sawmills. SmartWood wasn’t planning to check up on any of this until January 2007.
Scott says that I (and WRM) should be “calling on industry to act responsibly and support these projects by buying their timber”. But how can I possibly ask anyone to buy timber from an operation where no chain of custody is possible because the timber is not properly marked?
I agree with one part of Scott’s response: my article should not affect villagers’ livelihoods. But the reality is that villagers’ livelihoods are being affected – by the logging that is taking place in villagers’ forests. Villagers are not doing this logging themselves, as Scott knows. Logging crews are. Logging crews are not following management plans. They are logging more timber than they should. They are doing so to meet the demand from an increasing number of sawmills in the area. Villagers’ resin trees have been cut. Logging crews living conditions are grim. This is all according to the SUFORD report, but SmartWood failed to notice it.
I wrote the article because I believe that the findings of the World Bank report should be public. The report found that:
“In interviews with VFO (village forestry organisation] representatives – and partly also when discussing with FMU [forest management unit] staff – it was evident that the understanding of the PSFM [participatory sustainable forest management] concepts and basic principles was not clear.”
“All VFOs expressed that quality of training was insufficient.”
“The lack of understanding of the basic PSFM principles – and the weak adherence – became visible when the harvest blocks were inspected.”
At the end of his response to my article, Scott quotes a villager from Kengpe village, as saying that revenue from forest management has allowed villagers to improve village roads, the school, the temple, the irrigation system and houses. Kengpe village is in Khammouane province. Great. But neither Jonsson’s report nor my article are about village forestry operations in Khammouane province. Both are about village forestry operations in Savannahkhet.
SmartWood certified an operation knowing that it does not comply with either FSC principles and criteria or the Lao Forestry Law. To state what should be obvious: FSC is a standards-based certification system. It is not based on hoped for improvements. If the standards are not met, the operation should not be certified.