Reaching Portugal’s small-forest owners through group certification
With 86% of Portugal’s forests owned by small private landowners, each averaging less than 2.5 hectares, these small-forest owners play a significant role in the management of the country’s forests. However, until now, only a few of these landowners have achieved the certification of their sustainable forest management practices.
As a result, Portugal has seen a slow increase in the uptake of sustainable forest management certification, with only 7% of the total forest area PEFC-certified. In fact, despite there being over 400,000 small-forest owners in the country, the majority of the certified forests (81%) are managed by two large groups from the pulp and paper industry.
Since its creation, PEFC has developed group certification as a proven and effective option for these small family- and community-owned forests to obtain certification. An alternative approach to individual certification, it allows multiple forest owners to become certified as a group and share the financial costs arising from certification.
While group certification in Portugal has already enabled some small-forest owners to achieve certification, there still remained a significant need to scale it up and thereby increase the smallholders’ access to gaining international recognition of the sustainable forest management practices.
PEFC and group certification in Portugal
In response to the need to further develop and improve group certification in Portugal, the 2015 PEFC Collaboration Fund supported a project run by Forestis, the Portuguese Forest Association, with goal of increasing the number of small-forest owners benefitting from certification.
Key to the project was raising awareness among the country’s small-forest owners to the existence and benefits of group certification. To do so, the project partners undertook a range of outreach activities, from the organization of local workshops to the development of a thematic newsletter.
In addition to increasing the number of certified forest owners, the project also looked to improve the technical and organization capacity of the bodies responsible for implementing the group certification systems through the provision of technical support and the development of a support document.
As a final aspect, the project worked to promote sustainable forest management and forest certification among the general public, ensuring their active involvement as the end users of certified projects.
By the end of the project in early 2017, the three group certification regional initiatives led by Forestis members had 100 more forest owners, compared to the start of the project - with a 50% increase in certified forest area.