t's not every day that professional foresters, large retailers and timber companies sit down with indigenous forest dwellers, environmentalists and human rights activists to discuss the fate of forests and timber.

But in 1993 in Toronto, Canada, that is exactly what happened. All present stood to gain. Sustainable forest management is in everyone's interest, because well-managed forests provide livelihoods and resources far into the future.

Instead of depending on cut-and-run, short-term operations, businesses can produce, manufacture and sell products on a sustainable and long-term basis. Local peoples can retain traditional lifestyles of living off the land; workers are well treated; and environmentalists rejoice that forests are given a chance.

Setting standards
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - an internationally recognized body that sets standards for sustainable forestry - grew out of that meeting. FSC authorizes timber labelling from forests managed according to criteria encompassing human, environmental and economic needs. FSC's standards are not just concerned with the felling and replanting of trees; they extend to ensuring that labourers are treated with dignity and that foresters and timber companies can make profits at the same time as preserving natural resources. Sort of making sure that
no one cuts off the bough they are sitting on!

FSC's check-and-tree logo only goes on goods that meet strict requirements at every step of production. Customers can trace the origins of all its certified products from forest floor to shop shelf.

Global force
With partners from the IKEA furniture chain - now a company larger even than Microsoft - to the World Bank, FSC has grown from a tiny organization into a global force.

Major stores worldwide now stock more than 20,000 FSC-certified products from building timber to pencils, tables, doors, other furniture and even lavatory paper.

Dr Chris Elliott of WWF, the conservation organization, who chaired that first meeting in Canada in 1993 explains: 'At that time there were no certified forests. Ten years on, nearly 50 million hectares - an area larger than Spain - in 62 countries are certified by independent bodies accredited by the FSC.'

 

Widespread results
The results are seen all over the world. While Amazonian youth craft hand-made instruments from FSC-certified wood, American students manage university arboretums according to FSC guidelines. South African plantations have adopted FSC models of social and ecological management, and Spanish towns are installing certified benches in public parks.

Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, bamboo - technically a woody grass - is a valued source of food and construction materials. In China, it's known as 'the friend of the people', in Viet Nam, as 'brother'.

Bamboo shoots, low in calories and rich in fibre, are great to eat either raw or cooked. Bamboo branches are made into paper and furniture. Nearly three-quarters of the people of Bangladesh live in houses made from it. Skyscrapers in Tokyo and Hong Kong are built and repaired using bamboo scaffolding. And, in Java, Indonesia, musicians fashion percussion, wind and stringed instruments out of it.

Bamboo is prized not just for its strength but for its rapid regeneration: while it takes 60 years to replace an 18-metre tree after it is cut down, a bamboo of the same size grows back in only 59 days. Branches can be removed ready to use without slowing this growth. It is no surprise that bamboo is becoming popular around the world as a natural alternative to wood and other expensive, or rapidly depleting, materials.

photo: Tino Tran/www.bearsuitworld.com/vietnam

 

 
      photo: Christian Slanel/UNEP/Topham  
         
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