In mid-January, the Thai government made a significant pledge: to support rubber planters to comply with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The decision was made after a collective call from various rubber associations to the government and was supported by the Thai government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
This decision signals highly positive progress towards developing responsibly-managed sustainable forests in the country. The decision will have significant, lasting impacts – impacts which will be magnified by the fact that Thailand is the world’s largest producer of plantation rubberwood.
Demand for local rubberwood timber is high in the Thai furniture-manufacturing sector – which relies almost entirely on plantation rubberwood as a raw material. In addition, Thailand is also a noteworthy producer and exporter of wood-based panels, an industry which is reliant on a stable supply of domestic rubberwood.
One primary reason for the government’s new pledge is the advantages and benefits compliance with FSC standards will bring to Thailand’s timber export market. Thai prime minister Chan-o-cha himself stated that he believes complying with FSC standards “will make Thai products more viable for export to other markets in addition to China and will help raise their value in international markets.”
Considering that 97 per cent of total sawn wood exports in 2014 were comprised of rubberwood, with 80 per cent destined for China; and given rubberwood’s already sizable contribution to the total value of processed timber product exports, a further expansion in the rubberwood export trade will bring substantial benefits to Thailand.
Other important factors which laid the foundation for the government’s pledge are market drivers and a generally increasing demand for the FSC certification system. Major consumers in the rubberwood market, including IKEA and biomass, wood chip and pellet buyers from Japan recognise FSC as the most credible certification system. When a particular system is favoured by different governments across countries and by international buyers in an industry, smallholders are given extra impetus to comply with the standards of that system.
This pledge by the Thai government to support rubber planters who comply with FSC standards is a perfect example of how, when companies in the private sector cooperate with and work with a government, private procurement policies can generate positive nationwide impacts – benefiting not only smallholders but the economy and environment of the entire country.
So far, 8,000 hectares of rubber plantations in Thailand – out of a total of more than 1.6 million hectares – are FSC-certified. This leaves plenty of room to transform plantations into better-managed, more sustainable businesses; an achievement which is wholly attainable, now that rubber plantation owners have the government’s full backing to obtain FSC certification.
Further down the line, this decision is likely to have additional positive impacts, as the rubber sector has expressed willingness to take the lead and spearhead the development of an FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard (NFSS) for Thailand. The Thai government is now welcoming further suggestions from the industry and has vouched to support all rubber planters and companies in the future in their compliance with FSC standards.