In a landmark achievement, the field testing of the draft FSC national standards for India was completed in 2018.
This is both a significant milestone in the voluntary sustainability standard development process and a valuable contribution to the promotion of sustainable forest management in the country. This achievement also builds on national government initiatives regarding the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Looking back at the field testing process
Field testing is an integral part of the FSC standard development process, as it ensures that the standards are both auditable and relevant to the local context.
In late 2016, the FSC Standard Development Group (SDG India) was set up with a balance of stakeholder representatives coming from the environmental, social and economic sectors. SDG India produced the first draft of the FSC National Forest Stewardship Standards (NFSS) in 2017 and, after the first public consultation and stakeholder inputs, a second draft was delivered in early 2018. This second draft includes more than 200 newly-developed indicators at the national level.
Two sites were identified for the field testing: one high-intensity area and one low-intensity area. Low-intensity areas see a lower intensity of timber and non-timber forest produce harvesting; these include areas managed by smallholders, farm forestry areas and bamboo homesteads. High-intensity areas typically involve intensive site preparation, the construction of roads in ecosystem-sensitive zones, mechanised harvesting, the application of chemical or biological agents, and other activities that affect ecosystem services.
SDG India selected Sambalpur Forest Division in Odisha State for the high-intensity testing, while the low-intensity testing was conducted at two locations in the State of Assam – Nagon Forest Division and Patpajohra Forest Division.
The field testing was conducted in November and December 2018 by GICIA India, an authorised certification body with experience in conducting audits for FSC forest management certificates. In addition to the auditing team, representatives from the FSC Standard Development Group in India, FSC India, KPMG India and Drafter of the NFSS participated as observers. State Forest Department officials in both Assam and Odisha also extended their support, with senior officials being of particular assistance in finalising the specific testing locations.
High-intensity field testing in Odisha State
The high-intensity field testing was conducted between 24 and 28 November in Sambalpur Forest Division, one of the oldest forest divisions in India to have scientifically prepared forest working plans. Sambalpur has a forested area of about 6,200 sq. km., of which 51 per cent are natural Sal forests and the remaining are miscellaneous forests, mainly tropical moist deciduous and tropical dry deciduous forests. The adjacent Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary and Hirakund Lake are high conservation value areas, while the river Mahanadi and the Hirakund dam sites also add value to the landscape.
Signalling a high degree of government support, both the opening and closing meetings were conducted with senior forest officials at the state forest headquarters in Bhuvaneswar. A visit to Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary and a meeting with its manager helped the participants better understand the links between forest resources in Sambalpur and wildlife management; while a visit to natural Sal forest areas in the Dhama Range provided magnificent views of Sal trees (Shorea robusta) and their surrounding ecosystem. The Dharma Range is the oldest forest range in the area, having been inaugurated in 1900.
As part of the stakeholder consultation process, the team met with local people in a resettlement village in the District’s Padiabehal forest range. After a traditional welcome with flowers, music and dance, the villagers shared their thoughts and suggestions and reiterated their commitment to forest management initiatives. Local NGO representatives also joined the meeting and shared their views.
The closing meeting was chaired by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Forces for the Government of Odisha.
Low-intensity field testing in Assam State
The low-intensity field testing in Assam State was conducted in Nagaon Forest Division and Parbatjohra Forest Division from 14 to 19 December. The testing in Assam provided an opportunity to gain insight into the management of low-intensity forest areas, in particular bamboo homesteads and landscapes with significant social issues and disputes. The testing also created opportunities to learn how forest certification can potentially mitigate human-wildlife conflict and address various forest resource management issues.
Once again, the State Forest Department was an important source of support. The opening meeting was conducted on 14 December at State Forest Headquarters in Guwahati and chaired by the state government’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.
Nagaon Forest Division
The Nagaon Forest Division is located about 120 km east of Guwahati. Here, the team visited bamboo homestead areas, bamboo production units, nurseries, forest plantations, natural regeneration areas and areas where human-elephant conflicts have occurred. Several meetings were conducted with stakeholders, including local community members, self-help groups and representatives of local business enterprises. During these meetings, numerous villagers expressed concerns that large numbers of elephants have been roaming around in their crop fields and bamboo plantations.
Human-elephant conflicts are a major and on-going concern in Nagaon. In response, the forest department has introduced several innovative approaches to reducing these conflicts, including solar-powered electric fencing in selected areas and a radio collar system which tracks the movements of elephant herds. The team’s visits to the bamboo homesteads and their interactions with local farmers provided different perspectives on how villagers manage their bamboo and their agricultural crops.
Parbatjohra Forest Division
Before the field visits to one of the challenging forest management areas in the state began, plans for the visits were set at the state forest headquarters in Guwahati.
The first visit was to the Rajpura Vulture Conservation Area, also home to a forest nursery. This was once a conflict zone, with several forest officials having been targeted by militant groups. However, thanks to consistent efforts from the forest department, the area is now well managed and provides a range of employment opportunities to local communities.
Visits to several remote villages were not feasible due to the time constraints and security issues, and so several meetings were conducted at the Forest Office in Suparighat. These meetings, with village heads, representatives of bamboo traders and other stakeholders, facilitated understanding of the dynamics of bamboo processing and trading.
Later, a visit to a newly-established 50 hectare plantation in Markhrijohra provided valuable input on how forest plantations are managed in the Bodoland Territorial Council Area, established in 2003 after the surrender of the Bodo Tiger Liberation Force.
The next day, the team visited to a plantation managed for non-timber forest products managed by communities in Panbari with the support of forest department. A visit to Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC) areas in the Kharaghat Range followed, where a meeting with local community representatives helped the team understand how the forest department is generating positive outcomes – most notably by instilling confidence in the local people and constructively engaging them in forest management. The JFMC is particularly active in these areas, having, with the support of the Forest Department, constructed roads and a community hall and established weaving units to produce colourful fabrics.
Before leaving Parbatjohra Division, the team held a summary meeting at Diplai Beel and another beautiful lake in the area. Finally, the closing meeting in Assam was chaired by the state’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests on 19 December at the headquarters in Guwahati.
A report on the field testing will be presented to the FSC Standard Development Group and the forest-tested version of the NFSS (i.e. draft 3), will be produced for both a consultative forum review and a public consultation at the national level. The FSC Standard Development Group targets finalising the FSC National Standard by June 2019.
Special thanks to:
In Odisha State:
Dr Sanjeet Kumar IFS, Divisional Forest Officer Sambalpur and his colleagues, who extended their support during the field visits, joined the field testing team and contributed to the deliberations.
In Odisha, the audit team was headed by Mr A K Bansal, IFS (Rtd) Former Additional Director General of forests, Government of India and Lead Auditor for SCS Global services. Mr Bansal was assisted by two auditors, Mr S M Raghavendra and Ms Nidhi Choudhary. SDG was represented by Professor Prodyut Bhattacharya (Environment Chamber) from Gurugobindsingh Indraprastha University in New Delhi and Dr S K Sharma (Social Chamber) from Society for Afforestation Research an Action(SARA) in Dandeli, Karnataka. Mr Rishiraj Shukla from KPMG, Ms Taruna Singh drafter from GICIA and Dr TR Manoharan, Senior Advisor from FSC India also took part. Mr Subash Chandra Swain, IFS (Rtd), FSC International member (Environment Chamber) attended throughout the field visits and contributed to the deliberations.
In Assam State:
Mr Suvashish Das, IFS Divisional Forest Officer, and his colleagues in Nagon Forest Division supported the FSC field testing team and actively contributed to the deliberations both onsite and offsite.
In Assam, the audit team was headed by Dr Jagdish Kishwan, IFS (Rtd) Former Additional Director General of Forests, Government of India and Lead Auditor SCS Global services. Dr Kishwan was assisted by two auditors, Mr S M Raghavendra and Ms Nidhi Choudhary. Other members of the field team included Mr Narendra Mohan from WWF-India (Environment Chamber); Professor Prodyut Bhattacharya (Environment Chamber) and Dr S K Sharma (Social Chamber) representing the Standard Development Group; Ms Taruna Singh, drafter from GICIA, and Dr TR Manoharan, Senior Advisor from FSC India.