The Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries identifies ways to Build Back Better Together and Informed

©ITTO/R.CarrilloRome, from 22-25 June 2020 – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hosted the COVID-19 Forestry Webinar Week (see As part of this series, and to complement the webinar that the Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries (ACSFI)organized on the 27 May 2020 , the ACSFI hosted on 24 June 2020, in collaboration with the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the webinar entitled “The global forest sector & COVID-19:  Navigating a sustainable future in an economically & socially constrained world.”

The webinar provided perspectives of both the impact of COVID-19 on the global forest sector and suggestions for how the private sector and development agencies such as FAO can collaborate to build back better together and informed.

The webinar, which was attended by more than 200 participants, broadened the global insights that the ACSFI has regarding both the impact and response options to COVID-19. The session was opened by Mr Sven Walter, Secretary of the ACSFI and Ms Carina Hakansson, Chair of the ACSFI as well as moderated by Mr Steven Johnson, Director of Trade and Industry from ITTO. Country and regional based perspectives were heard from Ms Françoise Van de Ven, Secretary General of the Union des Forestiers Industriels du Gabon et Aménagiste (UFIGA), Mr Ivan Tomaselli, President of STCP Engenharia de ProjetosLtda and Vice President of Technology and Development of the Brazilian Association of the Mechanically Processed Timber ABIMCI and Ms Annie Ting, CEO Sarawak Timber Association. The session was closed by Mr Matthew Reddy, Senior Private Sector Specialist from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Mr Walter welcomed participants by highlighting the role of the forest sector to build back better a post-COVID world by contributing to prosperous green economies through the sustainable use and production of forest products that ensure the livelihood of millions of people. Ms Hakansson then opened the session by highlighting the important role that forest products have played during the COVID crisis. They have been critical on the front line providing personal protective equipment, and other supplies and services, including hygiene and sanitary products, biomass for heating, ethanol for sanitizer, respirator paper and packaging for parcels. In order to continue the uninterrupted supply of these products, the forest sector has been appropriately recognized in many part of the world as an essential service. As Chair of the ACSFI, Ms Hakansson boldly stated that a sustainable forest sector lies at the heart of COVID-19 recovery plans that seek to build back better. Indeed, there is now a unique chance to substitute high fossil fuel based products with those from a renewable resource while transitioning towards a circular bioeconomy.
The perspectives from Africa, Asia and South America, while geographically diverse also included a number of common elements. These included:

  • While the sector has been declared an essential service in most jurisdictions, it has suffered from a wide range of negative impacts including transport and logistic related challenges,limited availability of protective and prevention hygiene materials as well as often dysfunctional forest administration services.
  • While the pulp and paper market has largely remained strong, the impacts on other forest products markets, particularly those in China, Europe and the United States have been heavily impacted. Many tropical timber producers rely on these markets and have suffered accordingly. Of these small and medium enterprises remain the hardest hit. A robust recovery in markets will be essential to recovery of the forestry sector in many countries.
  • The calls for certification and the implementation of sustainable forest management practices remain. It is possible however that the current situation presents a “perfect storm” of pressures making the implementation of such ambitions increasingly difficult. Implementation of sustainable forest management and the associated requirements of certification come at a significant cost to forest producers. Unfortunately, consumers may rarely be willing to pay more for the adoption of such practices. The increased pressures that the impact of COVID-19 presents may hamper progress towards such goals.

The panellists presented the critical needs of tropical producing countries during these challenging times and offered useful suggestions for how development partners such as FAO, ITTO and the GEF could assist. These included to:

  • Provide detailed and consistent global information that support informed decision making;
  • Strengthen international cooperation, based on shared initiatives, involving the private sector, to develop competitive wood processing and products, to facilitate trade, enhance investment, and promote sustainable consumption;
  • Assist professional associations and companies with continued support to develop sustainable forest management plans;
  • Take into consideration that projects that are developed need to be executed on the field and should not be crippled by quarterly, bi-annual and yearly reports;
  • Maintain continued support and assistance to coach companies towards sustainable forest certification;
  • Assist in maintaining markets for legal and sustainably produced tropical timber;
  • Develop private and public sector projects, partnerships and funding to support projects that help tropical forest producing countries move to a functioning circular bioeconomy. Examples include assistance toeffectively manage wood waste;
  • Provide guidance, capacity building and models for the private sector to better understand and connect with initiatives related to climate change, demonstration of the sustainable development goals and the bioeconomy;and
  • Work in collaboration with complementary programs that support the development of markets for sustainable forest products e.g. SW4SW.

In closing the session, Mr Matthew Reddy echoed the findings of the previous ACSFI webinar. His recommendations included:

  1. To build back better, the forest sector needs to Build Back Better Informed.  We need response plans to support the recovery from COVID-19 and ensure that the full costs of sustainable forest management, including certification, are covered. These should be informed by joint research efforts and actions as well as strategic communications. Scientific data including a comprehensive understanding of the supply and demand of forest products around the world is essential to develop effective recovery plans. FAO already provides some of this data in FAOSTAT and the Global Forest Resources Assessment but more can be done and the private sector needs to work together with development partners including FAO, ITTO and the GEF to drive global collective action in this endeavor.
  2. The forest sector needs to Build Back Better Together – by pursuing a collaborative approach of all stakeholders concerned, including governments, civil society, academia, development partners such as FAO and the private sector, to facilitate collaboration and coordination of shared initiatives, and definitions of success that identify gaps and address deliverables. In developing countries particularly, the demands of sustainable forest management are considerable and currently, the cost of this is not necessarily reflected in the price attained. Development agencies, including FAO can assist producers to continue implementing sustainable forest management in line with the SDGs while also remaining competitive to allow the socio-economic benefits of the forest sector to be realised.

The ACSFI will build on the deliberations and outcomes of these and other discussions to continue guiding FAO as well as its member countries and other stakeholders, including the private sector, to effectively address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through coordinated action of the global forest sector to build back better informed and together.

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last updated:  Friday, July 31, 2020