Rattan Revival and the Recipe for a Sustainable Timber Market – partnership, certification and smallholders in the Greater Mekong

Posted on 26 June 2015

Natural rattan has made a comeback in design circles. Fast growing, easy to harvest, light and durable, it is in high demand amongst major European furniture manufacturers and retailers.
[The original article was published on European Year for Development 2015 official platform]

Rattan revival

Natural rattan has made a comeback in design circles. Fast growing, easy to harvest, light and durable, it is in high demand amongst major European furniture manufacturers and retailers.

Growing around other trees, rattan relies on healthy forests, so from a conservation perspective, its potential as a profitable crop can provide an incentive for better overall forest management, as well as income for forest-dependent communities.

Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the Greater Mekong region. Communities in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia rely heavily on the rattan trade, with sales accounting for up to 40 per cent of income in many villages.

Demanding challenge

But this exciting future for rattan, and indeed for timber and many other forest products, comes with a challenge. Demand is a double-edged sword. Over-harvesting can affect forest health, while the use of toxic chemicals and petrol in the conventional processing of rattan affects soil, air, water quality and people’s health.

The path to economic development in the Greater Mekong has taken a toll in the form of deforestation and forest degradation. Forest cover has fallen from over 55 per cent in the early 1970s to 34 per cent today – threatening ecological and social catastrophe in a region that is home to many millions of people and an incredible number of species, many of which are not found anywhere else on the planet.

WWF’s Living Forests report predicts that by 2050 we’ll be using nearly three times as much wood globally as we are now. In a world where competition for land and water is intensifying, incomes are rising and populations are growing, we need to find ways to increase the supply of wood without destroying or degrading the forests on which we all depend.

Partnerships for change

Achieving sustainability is a challenge that spans the whole timber supply chain, from where and how wood and other forest products are grown and harvested to how wisely and efficiently they are processed, used and reused. For WWF, there is no doubt that this complexity means any lasting solution requires a collective effort.

Partnership is a key ingredient in the recipe for change. Forest stewardship driven by commercial interest in sustaining wood supplies is especially important, and collaboration with companies like IKEA – a company that uses around 1 per cent of all commercial timber globally – plays a crucial role in WWF’s work to transform the entire timber market.

The potential for positive change is significant. By 2017, IKEA expects to source at least 50 per cent of its wood from more sustainable sources, and 100 per cent by 2020. Through its People and Planet Positive strategy, IKEA is striving for nothing less than energy and resource independence that secures good business while protecting the planet. And increasingly, many other major companies such as Mondi and TetraPak, which also rely on secure supplies of timber and pulp, are making similar welcome commitments to sustainability.

The role of certification

Credible forest certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a tool that is also central in forest conservation. FSC certification provides a mechanism for monitoring the sustainability of forest management and for tracing timber and other forest products through supply chains to ensure they are produced and handled responsibly and comply with the law.

To gain certification, forests are subject to third-party evaluation against the FSC standard. Products from forests that meet the standard earn a label that harnesses the power of the market to drive responsible forest management and sustainability. The label enables and encourages businesses and consumers alike to purchase timber and forest products produced in a legal, sustainable and socially responsible way.

And commitments to sourcing from certified forests are at the heart of all of WWF’s partnerships with companies that use wood. Between 2003 and 2014, for example, WWF’s partnership with IKEA contributed directly to an increase in FSC-certified forest area of around 30 million hectares. And by 2017, the partnership expects to contribute to the certification of a further 15 million hectares – an area equivalent alone to more than double that needed to supply the company.

Involving smallholders

Certification schemes can offer millions of people who rely on forests for their food and income a means of safeguarding their interests, developing responsible forestry practices, and securing access to new international markets. But it’s not without challenges. For many smallholders and communities, the burden of engaging in certification can be too high without external support. Yet given their potential for profound impact on overall forest health in the Greater Mekong region, meaningful smallholder involvement is essential.

WWF’s Sustainable Rattan Project in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, funded by IKEA, Sida and SDC (Laos) – as well as previously by Germany’sInvestment and Development Corporation (DEG) and the European Union – promotes more sustainable rattan production. And with partners like theInternational Network for Bamboo and Rattan, WWF provides technical training on FSC standards to smallholders, helping them improve management skills and linking them with suppliers, and developing a variety of rattan products such as doormats, baskets and chairs that are suitable for the international market.

And in 2011, our partnership with IKEA contributed to the first ever FSC certification of rattan forest in Laos, a major milestone in a country where rattan is an invaluable part of rural people’s livelihoods. With 5,700 hectares certified and another 8,504 hectares in the pipeline, forest communities are seeing the value and benefits of responsible management – even when measured against the short-term gains from overharvesting, illegal trade and land conversion. Overall, 100 villages in the Greater Mekong have now set up Village Rattan Producer Groups and over 4,000 families have benefitted, and the approach to certification developed in Laos is now being replicated in Vietnam, where it is attracting government investment in forest communities and improved forest management.

A growing green economy

Thanks to increasing demand from a number of companies in Europe and the US, the export of rattan continues to grow steadily, helping secure income for rattan farmers who in turn contribute a percentage of their income to community projects and better forest management. With much work still to be done, however, since 2011, WWF has also been piloting responsible rattan management and FSC certification in Indonesia – the source of around 80 per cent of commercial rattan.

‘Sustainable rattan only has a chance if there is a market for it and if the forests where the rattan grows are still standing. With credible forest management, responsible trade and consumer awareness we can ensure that this fascinating natural raw material has a future.’
Tam Le Viet, WWF Greater Mekong Sustainable Rattan Project Manager

Success has come from partnership between NGOs, governments and business. Progressive companies are recognising a collective responsibility to sustainably manage the resources they rely on – not only to reduce risk and ensure supply chains, but also to remain attractive and competitive in a world increasingly judged by environmental and social performance. And alongside major global commodities like timber, fish, beef, soy and palm oil, responsibly produced rattan can help alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

Source of the article
WWF and IKEA Partnership
Different government projects and programmes contribute funds to a rattan enrichment pilot project in Vietnam. Every household in communes and villages are encouraged to participate to increase their income.
© Nguyen Vu, WWF Vietnam