As Nepal’s FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard (NFSS) is approved without conditions, which is the first in the Asia Pacific, Dr Bhishma shares with FSC APAC the experience of the standard development process, his motivations, and what he anticipates FSC national standards can offer to Nepal.
How did you first get in touch with FSC?
While I had been familiar with FSC since its inception, my direct involvement with FSC for the certification and governance system at the practical level started in the early 2000s.
When I was developing a programme that would ensure sustainable management of forests and better international marketing for Nepal’s non-timber forest products (NTFPs), FSC came to my mind as a means to achieve the goal. The project was developed and funded by USAID along with the support of several alliance partners, such as international businesses and domestic enterprises, Certificate Bodies (CBs) for certification expertise, Nepali NGOs, government agencies and local community organisations at various levels for the initiative.
When did you start to involve in the FSC standard development process, for how long?
In 2002, we did a review and concluded that the FSC would best suit our purposes. However, developing a Nepal standard would take a lot of effort and time, especially when we had no actual field experience. So, we worked with Rainforest Alliance, a Certification Body, to develop interim standards focusing on NTFPs to address the immediate need, while at the same time supporting to form a national working group for achieving the long-term goal. This was a very useful exercise to get all the stakeholders to familiarise about the benefits, usefulness, requirements and costs of FSC certification.
Later in 2005, FSC interim national working group was formed to develop FSC national standards and promote FSC certification in Nepal, but a final draft was yet to produce and submit to FSC. With FSC and UNEP, we developed the Forest Certification for Ecosystem Services (ForCES) programme, a pilot scheme to expand and enhance global and national environmental standards applying to emerging markets for biodiversity conservation and ecosystems services. I’d call it an “upgrade” on top of the current FSC certification.
With ForCES and building on my organisation, ANSAB (Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources)’s knowledge and experience from the previous FSC certification work including the interim certification standards developed by the certification body and FSC interim national working group, we facilitated the development of FSC National Forest Stewardship Standards (NFSS) for Nepal in 2013, and the standard was completed and approved in 2018.
What’s your biggest motivation?
My commitment and firm belief in sustainable forest management. I believe that balancing social, environmental and economic concerns is crucial for creating synergy between people and nature for a happy, harmonious and peaceful living. We saw a lot of benefits from the proper use of the FSC standards and certification, for example, to improve governance and productivity, increase efficiency in the operation and processing of products, gain better market price with more stable markets, community benefits, environmental and social safeguards, and recognition of good system and practices at local, domestic and international level.
Can you share the top 3 challenges that you encountered during the process? How were they resolved at the end?
First, the technical detail and the complexity to be addressed at both systemic and practical levels that encompass the social, economic and environmental aspects of SFM at the field level. It was especially difficult to bring all relevant stakeholders with various interests and level of understanding to a common view. With ANSAB’s strong technical expertise, long-term on-the-ground experience on SFM, and extensive network, the organisation was able to pull the resources and provide clear guidance on the technical issues and their on-the-ground implication.
Reaching consensus was another big challenge. During public consultations and at Standard Development Group (SDG) meetings, the stakeholders that have different positions will present different views because of their interests. To resolve this, ANSAB organised consultation workshops involving relevant national level stakeholders, where there were sessions to describe the essence of each indicator, and had group discussions so the participants could work to build a common understanding at indicator level. For the SDG members, I was fortunate to work along with FSC representative who provides guidance on each principle, criterion and indicator to build understanding and consensus on each indicator. Also, chamber- level discussion meetings were frequently organised to bring their constructive inputs to the process.
Local adaptation was something we had to overcome as well. For example, the minimum requirement of the conservation area network was worrying for representatives from community managed forests. There was no precise definition to distinguish ‘conservation area’ versus ‘protected area system’ in Nepal, and they might be treated as equivalent and might enable the government to take over the community managed forests into the protected area system. Local people might be left deprived of not being able to use forest resources and benefits. After many attempts to remedy the issue, SDG discussed and agreed to provide the interpretation for small organisations, and the standards finally got the support of all SDG members and stakeholders.
What are the things that you’re most proud of about getting this NFSS done?
The first time Nepal successfully have its own FSC standards to ensure SFM and safeguard ecosystem services. Although ANSAB has trained to produce certified auditors and a significant number of stakeholders on FSC certification process, requirements and benefits, some stakeholders still perceived that certification was externally imposed, and the requirements and utility of the certification were not precise. This perception can be changed now with the national level standards developed together with the relevant local stakeholders. The standard development process itself also helped educate the local and demonstrate the importance of forests, SFM and ecosystem services.
I’m glad to see that ANSAB’s long-term wishes for the Incentive-based forest and ecosystem management can be realised, especially for community-based forest management. Certification provisions, such as Ecosystem Services, are now included in policy documents like REDD+, Forestry Sector Strategy and Forest Policy.
What are the top 3 things that you’re most impressed about FSC?
I’d say i) FSC standards provide a very practical way to ensure sustainability balancing social, economic and environmental concerns. It includes HCV, biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, involvement and benefit to local communities, efficiency in FM operation and use of products and services; ii) With its highly trusted label for its rigour, it is a means to access a green market, build trust, and generate multiple values to local communities, businesses and other stakeholders, and iii) FSC has proven measures to help the smallholders, such as group certification and small and low-intensity consideration in the standards, to reduce the cost while meeting the standards.
What are the benefits that you’re anticipating now that the national standard of Nepal has passed?
With the country-specific practical indicators and verifiers, NFSS can provide an incentive to forest managers to adopt SFM practices; can create an opportunity to public and private entities to procure certified forest products and services in line with their policy and commitment on sustainable development. It can also help the forest managers to get better access to a responsible market for ecosystem goods and services at national and international level.
As a tool, the NFSS can let the government and other conservation and development agencies to evaluate the performance and impact of forest management, and to improve good governance in sustainable forest management including equitable benefit sharing mechanism.
What is a forest to you?
A complex ecosystem, primarily dominated by trees and other plants, to provide habitats for many life forms. It offers a variety of natural products and ecosystem services to human and other animals such as wood, food, nutrition, medicine, spices, essence, energy, water, clean air, watershed protection, recreational service, and more… it is a well stock of natural capitals.
It is also a source of peace, harmony and happiness for many as it reflects the complex natural phenomena on the ground.
Bio of Dr. Bhishma P. Subedi
Bhishma P. Subedi, Executive Director of ANSAB (Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources), has over 30 years of experience in participatory conservation and rural development programs, research, policy analysis, university teaching, and networking. He has designed over 100 development and research projects and led the implementation of over 70 projects including those with multiple donors, partners and countries; developed strategies, methodologies and tools; monitored and evaluated conservation and development programs; and delivered key notes and invited technical presentations in national and international forums.
He has received a Master of Forest Science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a Ph.D. in Forestry from the Kumaun University. He has over 70 published articles, books, practical manuals, guidelines and toolkits, and over 100 research/technical reports. He has been recognized as the “Champion of the Asia-Pacific Forests” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and honored with the Best Paper Award by the International Congress on Ethnobiology and the Most Innovative Development Project Award (Second Prize) by the Global Development Network, among others.