Under the banner of its New Approaches for Smallholders and Communities Certification (or ‘New Approaches’) project, FSC aims to simplify its certification process for smallholders and communities. One of the measures developed to meet this challenge is the continuous improvement concept, an ongoing process in which smallholders take flexible steps to gain FSC certification over time. A distinction is made between requirements that smallholders must meet from the start – “critical criteria” – and other steps that can be achieved later, in a progressive way, within a specified timeframe.

This approach aims to address some of the main barriers identified by smallholders and communities all around the world. Many perceive FSC policies and standards as being too complex. For instance, implementation requires various technical skills that smallholders do not necessarily have.

In eastern Africa, local communities face two main obstacles when trying to achieve FSC certification:

1) Income Source
Instead of cutting their trees as they need money, smallholders must leave the trees standing for a few years to meet FSC’s requirements. This means they must find other income sources to satisfy their family’s needs.

2) Dependence on relatives for workforce
Smallholders do not usually employ labourers as they tend to work in family units or share labour between neighbours. This reality makes it difficult to apply the FSC Principle 2 on “the social and economic well-being of workers.”

Feedback on continuous improvement

FSC recently organized a regional meeting in Kenya to keep its international members and other stakeholders informed about recent developments.

Kenyan stakeholders noted that the continuous improvement approach would reduce stress by not demanding that all the requirements be met at once. Oscar Simanto, of Kenya Forestry Services, a governmental institution, explained: “FSC is developing this approach at the right time when the Government of Kenya wants to revitalize sustainable forest management, and is considering certification seriously as a tool to help push this agenda. Therefore, continuous improvement will motivate the government to support smallholders to enter into certification.”

“A continuous improvement approach is an exciting and innovative approach,” noted Walter Mapanda, technical advisor at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Uganda. He indicated that FAO would be willing to promote the continuous improvement approach among smallholders benefitting from its sawlog production grant.

Participants of the regional meeting also supported the continuous improvement concept as a potential solution to improve smallholders’ and communities’ certification within the FSC system. Some members described the initiative as a “promising approach.” They also asked to receive ongoing information around the implementation of the concept in eastern Africa, as well as on current New Approaches-related projects.

For more details on the project in East Africa, please contact Annah Agasha, FSC East Africa Project Manager, at a.agasha@fsc.org.

For more details on the New Approaches project, please contact Vera Santos, FSC Project Manager, at v.santos@fsc.org.