Kochi: After the US and Europe tightened conservation laws last year to curtail illegal logging globally, India’s $2 billion (Rs9,400 crore) handicraft and wood products industry is now scampering for certification of forests and their produce.
The new rules become effective later this year.
Conservation push: Toy factory workers in Channapatna, Karnataka. India exports wood handicraft items worth about Rs1,000 crore a year. Hemant Mishra / Mint
The US amended its Lacey Act last year, making it illegal to import or trade in any plant or products made from plants, unless certified that these don’t violate sustainable forestry practices. The amendment was effective December, but has been delayed until end-2009 to allow exporting countries more time to meet the new norms.
Similarly, Europe’s action plan for forest law enforcement, governance and trade, effective from 2010, aims to deter illegal logging, poaching of and trafficking in timber and forest produce.
The World Bank estimates the global annual market value of losses from illegal cutting of forests at about $10 billion.
Under the Lacey Act, forest products imported into the US should be tagged with a declaration that includes details such as the scientific name of the plant used, a description of the value, quantity and the name of the country from where the materials were sourced.
India’s exports of wood handicraft items alone are estimated at Rs1,000 crore a year on average, according to figures from the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts, a government trade promotion agency.
Alan Smith, a network coordination team leader with Bonn, Germany-based not-for-profit Forest Stewardship Council, said the new amendments make it imperative for government organizations and industries to push for certification of forest areas and products from globally recognized agencies so their exports aren’t restricted.
Smith was in Kochi recently for a workshop on forest certification organized by WWF (formerly World Wide Fund for Nature).
There are around a dozen globally recognized agencies for granting licences. The process involves audit of the forests and industries, and the process can take up to a year.
Globally, 110 million ha of forests in 80 countries have been certified, including 3 million ha in China, Smith said. In India, so far, only one region—a plantation in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu—has this certification.
This could explain the anxieties of Zulfeqar Alam, a manufacturer and exporter of wooden handicraft from Nagina district in Uttar Pradesh.
“We use around 1 lakh cu. ft of wood annually, and the roughly 10,000 artisans with nearly 1,700 units, manufacturing items like wooden jewellery, decoratives and walking sticks with brass inlays, export items worth Rs450 million annually,” said Alam, who attended the workshop as a member of the Nagina Crafts Development Society. “What we sell is not just wooden items, but our craft and tradition.”
Alam said authorities should help small manufacturers such as him to get certification for their products so they can remain in the trade.
T.R. Manoharan, senior co-ordinator of WWF India, said the Union ministry of environment and forests has formed a sustainable forest management cell to look into early finalization of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, of which he is a member.
The cost of obtaining a certificate for a forest area can be as high as Rs20 lakh for a 600-acre estate—the sum paid by the Chennai-based Murugappa Group for its New Ambadi rubber estate in Kanyakumari. Wood from the estate is used for making furniture and other products.
For the forest produce-based industry, the cost for certification can be up to $7,000, Manoharan said. Agencies such as the United Nations can help arrange funds for small and medium wood-based industries, he added.
WWF, too, has a special arm to help small industries raise funds for certification. The network expects to get at least 45 wood processing enterprises in China, India and Vietnam certified over the next three years. Of these, 15 would be in Kerala, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Pramod Gupta, managing director of SWISO India Pvt. Ltd, a forest produce certifying agency headquartered in Switzerland, said several plantations in India are in discussions with his firm. He didn’t give details.
T.V. Sajeev, a scientist at the Kerala Forest Research Institute, said forest-related industries would have to get the certification to remain in business. Since forests proliferate across areas near the equator—dominated by developing or underdeveloped countries—and has to be conserved, the issue is how much of the protection cost should be borne by developed countries.