Did it ever cross your mind that you literally may be sitting on a connection to Indonesian forests half a world away? That your chair might have been home to an orangutan in its previous form?
More than half of the wood products consumed in major markets come from somewhere else. In 2010, the United States was the top buyer of wood furniture from the Asia Pacific region. That might just include your favorite chair.
The importance of goods produced from tropical Asian forests is undeniable, but those goods can either arrive to us at the expense of forests, or in support of them. Today, as many hundreds of thousands of acres of primary tropical forests are felled across Asia Pacific every year, we are faced with a choice: furniture from destroyed forests that leave no home for orangutans; that deprive local communities of food, medicine and construction materials; that leave families with erosion-laden drinking water and the planet with evermore C02? Or furniture from certified sustainable forests that provide locals with a long-term revenue stream, that maintain habitat for wild animals, and that capture more carbon than they emit?
For more than 10 years, a combination of progressive timber companies, government officials, communities, NGOs and academic institutions across Asia Pacific have been cooperating to ensure that the region’s forests can continue to provide a steady stream of social, economic, ecological and climate change benefits, both locally and globally. This is a long process that relies on building trust between former adversaries, introducing new skills around logging practices, improving planning and management, and committing to transparency in the flow of information. These entities come together, despite their differences because they share a vision of what they all believe is possible and achievable: healthy and hardworking forests across Asia Pacific that provide for locals, provide for global markets, and that also provide homes for orangutans and other forest-dwelling wildlife while supplying oxygen and capturing carbon for the benefit of all of us all.
The best proof of how successful this new approach can be is the independent, third-party certification of practices in accordance with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This past summer, it was announced that the area of FSC-certified rainforests in Indonesia doubled from approximately 2 million to 4 million acres over the past two years. The Conservancy supported the design and/or implementation of sustainable management methods for more than 80% of those sites. FSC forests exemplify exactly what we are all hoping to achieve: they are forests that produce goods in sustainable ways that benefit locals and keep nature intact. The fact that four million acres of Indonesian forests are now FSC-certified means that four million acres (an area the size of Hawaii!) are still standing—and will continue to stay standing, rather than being destroyed. This success is being replicated not just in Indonesia, but in rainforests across Asia and the Pacific.
To encourage sustainable forestry, regional governments—often with the political, financial, and technical support of the European Union, Australia and the United States— are helping countries to improve laws and regulations governing forestry. Equally important, companies, responding to consumer concern, are demanding to know where their timber is coming from and the conditions under which it was managed and harvested—creating a market incentive for local producers to harvest and sell sustainable goods. This powerful combination of strengthened policy and market incentives encourages compliance and raises the stakes for non-compliance, and has already taken hold in the timber sector.
While good management is essential to preserving healthy and economically viable forested areas, our next challenge is applying the same pattern to address agricultural crops, like oil palm. Indonesian palm oil finds its way into a range of surprising products we consume every day, from ice cream to cosmetics. Just like how rubber from rubber trees in Thailand are used for a million things, and cashews from Lao PDR are a key ingredient in local cuisines across Asia, from Sichuan to Vietnam. We have the opportunity to apply the same type of approaches that have demonstrated success in forests to the way that we collectively management agricultural crops, and in the case of Indonesia, that means oil palm—so that the ice cream we eat can be sustainably sourced in addition to our favorite chairs.
Help Protect Tropical Forests in Asia Pacific!
[Image: Orangutan relaxing on a tree branch in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: © Eve Tai/TNC]