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Making Certification More Accessible to All: Thailand Finds a Way Forward for Smallholder Certification

Blog | Mon, 31 Jul, 2023 · 10 min read

Forest Certification in Thailand

Forest certification rewards sustainable forest management and the exclusion of illegal timber from certified supply chains, in the form of increased market access to sustainability-conscious consumer markets. The UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative sees increasing access to certification as a way to involve more actors, such as smallholders and mSMEs, in tackling forest crime and reducing deforestation, degradation and associated carbon emissions at both the national and regional scale.

Thailand is rapidly embracing forest certification. Its national forest certification system was endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) in 2019, and Thailand’s Forest Industry Organization (FIO) has obtained Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forest management certification for over 90,000 ha of its forest holdings. An additional 50,000 ha of forests are also certified in the country.

To increase the area of certified forests and timber products, certification must be made accessible and affordable for the smallholders, tree farmers and mSMEs that form the backbone of Thailand’s timber sector. This is especially true for Thailand’s rubber sector. Thailand is the world’s leading producer of rubber latex and rubberwood, with 3.5 million ha of rubber plantations according to FAO’s 2020 Global Forest Resource Assessment. The Royal Forestry Department reports that rubber wood accounted for 98% of Thailand’s timber exports in  2018-2020. Both industries primarily source from smallholders, applying processes that traditionally do not collect the documentation needed to trace the origin of rubberwood – undermining the ability to prove legal origin, a first step to certification. 


Shifting the Status Quo

However, Thailand’s rubber growers and processors are realizing that this needs to change. New requirements from the European Union mandate that all rubber latex and rubberwood being placed on the EU market demonstrate deforestation-free production. If Thai rubberwood is to maintain its market share, smallholders - the vast majority of rubberwood growers – will need to show the origin of their rubberwood and that this is deforestation-free.

Compliance with such market requirements is paramount for the success of initiatives, like the Thai government’s target of increasing the area of economic tree plantations to cover 15% of the country’s area, under the 20-year National Strategic Development Plan (2018-2037). Consequently, the Royal Forestry Department of Thailand recognizes the need to increase smallholder access to forest certification while also facilitating market access for smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs. 

This is why the UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative has worked to make forest certification more smallholder-friendly, by piloting models for smallholder certification and strengthening Thailand’s infrastructure for certification.  


Making Certification Accessible to Smallholders

Group certification uses the economy of scale to reduce the financial and technical barriers faced by smallholders who wish to achieve forest certification. By working in a group, they are able to pool resources to cover the cost of certification and set up a group management system. 

This said, certification often requires significant investments and changes in their management. The Thai Forest Certification Council (TFCC) reports that as of 2021, only 3,230 farmers in 9 groups had obtained group certification under the PEFC endorsed, National Forest Certification standards of Thailand. This is partially due to the challenges of setting up the internal administration needed to manage a group, and providing the awareness raising and training needed to all members to ensure compliance.

The Lower Mekong Initiative worked to promote group certification by  supporting:

  • The preparation of formal guidelines for smallholders and cooperatives on how to prepare for group forest management certification against Thailand’s national standard;
  • A baseline assessment and feasibility study of group certification models, which found that the most suitable model was for groups to be led by cooperatives, community enterprises, or the private sector, with funding support to be shared between the private sector and public institutions supporting cooperatives and SMEs;
  • Simplification of a manual guiding certification of small and low-intensity managed forests (SLIMF) for use among smallholders in Thailand.

Achievements of the UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative 

15 cooperatives have received technical support for group certification, including help preparing three cooperatives for audit – potentially benefiting their 850 smallholder members in Satun and Trang provinces. Approximately 40 companies have been engaged through training on certification, largely focused on preparing to obtain CoC certification for both cooperatives and associations. 

Group certification was also incorporated into a revision of Thailand’s Forest Management standard, which underwent public consultation in 2022. The project supported consultations - in person and virtually – to collect stakeholder feedback and ensure a transparent and inclusive process in revising the national standards on forest certification. As a result, the definitions of “forest” and “trees outside forests” were clarified to accommodate smallholders and SMEs in complying with legal and certification requirements. 

The assessment found that group certification provided additional benefits, such as improving the knowledge of rubber farmers on environmental issues and biodiversity protection, while also improving the safety of their working conditions by incentivizing the adoption of stricter health and safety standards. A representative of the Rubber Association Of Thailand (RAOT) noted at a training that, “a feasible model of group certification, especially at the regional scale, could probably help smallholders get certified. RAOT is willing to support funding for this under the Thailand Green Rubber programme.” 

A Sustainable Tropical Timber Information Hub was launched in cooperation with FSC to “match-make” certified timber producers and buyers. The Hub has been translated into the Thai language and features a success story on group certification in Thailand. It enables communication and networking between certificate holders of all sizes - from smallholders, and SMEs, to multinational corporations along the construction, timber and furniture value chains. The goal is to enhance access for domestic wood producers to international demand for certified timber and forest products trade over the long term.